Native Plants for Native Bees and Honeybees: New England Aster

In addition to keeping a hive of bees in my backyard and a flock of chickens, I have quite the vegetable garden, mini orchard, and space devoted to native plants. When I began planting native plants, I specifically looked for natives that were useful not only to my backyard hive but also for the plethora of other native bees and pollinators whose natural habits have shrunk under suburban lawns and stretches of asphalt and cement. If you have space in your backyard for a hive, you should consider planting New England Asters in it not just for your honeybees but for native ones too.

New England Asters are as gorgeous as the flowers themselves are plentiful with seemingly endless purple blossoms with bright gold centers. They bloom from August to October, providing both nectar and pollen when comparatively few flowers do so in autumn. Mine are always abuzz with activity, and I enjoy checking on them to see which type of insects are visiting them. Yes, my honeybees do, but I also see butterflies, including monarchs, moths, various flies, wasps, and native bees. I wish I were more adept at identifying these native insects.

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Some species of native inspects depend on New England Asters and other flowers in their class. Pearl Crescent Butterflies and Canadian Sonia Moths use this plant for their larvae, and Mining Bees rely on the pollen from asters in order to feed their larvae. While these native insects depend on New England Asters, they are versatile enough that both small and large bees can collect pollen from them and small- and long-tongued bees can collect their nectar. Butterflies also are particularly attracted to them due to their shape and coloring. Basically, you can’t go wrong by planting them.

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New England Asters flourish in full sun with slightly wet soil, and it even does well in my terribly clay-filled soil. The plants range in height dramatically, but can reach heights of 72 inches. Mine are happy at about three feet tall. Their native habitat range is expansive, covering most of the continental United States, excluding desert regions and stretching into parts of Canada, so they’ll likely do just fine in your backyard.

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Holm, Heather. Pollinators of Native Plants:  Attract, Observe and Identify Pollinators and Beneficial Insects with Native Plants. Pollination Press, 2014.

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