“The aromatic aster… is loaded with blue-purple daisy-like flowers that persist into late October. When brushed lightly, the blue-green leaves release a fresh, hard-to-describe but pleasant fragrance. This aster grows from rhizomes (as do most asters) and will attain a height of 2-3′ in the wild. Up to a dozen well-branched stems occur on a mature plant, and each holds narrow 1″ long leaves. The flowers are violet to pink to blue, each being about 1″ wide.”
“The flowerheads have 20-30 violet, rarely lavender or pink, rays and yellow disc florets. Pale green leaves are oblong or lanceolate-oblong, to 8 cm (3 in) long, and rough on compact clumps….
“If freedom of flower production over a long season counts for anything A. oblongifolius and its offspring deserve to be much more widely planted by gardeners. The most aromatic parts of the plant are said to be the green-tipped bracts below the rays. The variable species has already provided gardeners with the selection known as ‘Fanny’s Aster’, which is similar but smaller. [Flowerheads] are freely carried over a long period on bushy sprays, with many branches which spread horizontally.”
Below are seventeen images of Aromatic Asters that were among the earliest asters to appear this autumn at Oakland Cemetery’s gardens. I photographed these in the first week of October (already a month ago!) while hunting down zinnias. Their tiny violet/purple blooms with orange and yellow centers create one of my favorite color combinations — yellow and purple — that capture the eye’s attention against the dark green background of their stems and leaves. Visually, they make up for their small size by blooming profusely in these rich, highly contrasted colors.
I spent some time puzzling over whether these were Aromatic Asters (Symphyotrichum oblongifolium) or Bushy Asters (Symphyotrichum dumosum), given that Bushy’s flower is so similar in appearance. But the fragrance of these Aromatics was quite distinct — reminiscent, actually, of scented fabric softeners — so I stuck with the idea that I’d gotten the name right, especially since Bushy Asters are scentless. And Aromatic Aster’s unopened blooms emerge in a unique shape — similar to a cone or teardrop shape — that differentiate them from Bushy Asters.
“One of the most obliging of all garden plants, and maybe the best perennial for the early fall garden, is the Japanese anemone. Once you have it, you have it. There is no question of replacing it every few years. It spreads moderately but is not invasive, and so far as I have seen it is not bothered by mildew, viruses, or bugs.
“From a tuft of basal leaves it sends up flower stalks three or four feet high, with many buds that open over a period of several weeks. The individual flowers are about the size of silver dollars, either white or rose pink, with conspicuous yellow stamens at the center. There are also semidouble forms. I like the plain single white ones best….
“In the bishop’s garden of Washington Cathedral… I have often admired the white anemone blooming amid fat old clumps of box, one of the happiest associations imaginable. The anemone also looks good in back of late-flowering hostas. But the hostas are too dense for the anemones to compete with, so they should be separated by three feet or so. When they bloom together (their bloom overlaps, though the hostas finish before the anemones), the two kinds of flowers almost touch.”
“The stock or kindred of the Anemones or Wind-flowers, especially in their varieties of colours, are without number, or at the least not sufficiently known unto any one that hath written of plants. For Dodonaeus hath set forth five sorts; Lobel eight; Tabernamontanus ten: myself have in my garden twelve different sorts: and yet I do hear of divers more differing very notably from any of these; which I have briefly touched, though not figured, every new year bringing with it new and strange kinds; and every country his peculiar plants of this sort, which are sent unto us from far countries….
“The first kind of Anemone or Wind-flowers hath small leaves very much snipped or jagged almost like unto Camomile, or Adonis flower: among which riseth up a stalk bare or naked almost unto the top; at which place is set two or three leaves like the other: and at the top of the stalk cometh forth a fair and beautiful flower compact of seven leaves, and sometimes eight, of a violet colour tending to purple. It is impossible to describe the colour in his full perfection, considering the variable mixtures….
“The second kind of Anemone hath leaves like to the precedent, insomuch that it is hard to distinguish the one from the other but by the flowers only: for those of this plant are of a most bright and fair scarlet colour, and as double as the Marigold; and the other not so….
“The [third] great Anemone hath double flowers, usually called the Anemone of Chalcedon (which is a city in Bithynia) and great broad leaves deeply cut in the edges, not unlike to those of the field Crow-Foot, of an overworn green colour: amongst which riseth up a naked bare stalk almost unto the top, where there stand two or three leaves in shape like the others, but lesser; sometimes changed into reddish stripes, confusedly mixed here and there in the said leaves. On the top of the stalk standeth a most gallant flower very double, of a perfect red colour….
“The fourth agreeth with the first kind of Anemone, in roots, leaves, stalks, and shape of flowers, differing in that, that this plant bringeth forth fair single red flowers, and the other of a violet colour….
“The fifth sort of Anemone hath many small jagged leaves like those of Coriander, proceeding from a knobby root resembling the root of Bulbocastanum or Earth Chestnut. The stalk rises up amongst the leaves of two hands high, bearing at the top a single flower, consisting of a pale or border of little purple leaves, sometimes red, and often of a white colour set about a blackish pointel, thrummed over with many small blackish hairs….”
I had not previously known that anemone plants were also called “windflowers” — the recent learning of which sent me into a research tizzy about the source of the common name. With a little help from ClaudeAI, I discovered that John Gerard’s book The Herball, or, Generall Historie of Plantes — often retitled as The Herbal, or General History of Plants (or simply Gerard’s Herbal) — contained some of the earliest written references to anemones as windflowers. There are several variations of the book available online, some of which appear to be scans of an original 1700-page 1597 version, where “windflower” was written as “winde-floure” — which I’ve decided is pronounced “windy-flurry” even if it’s not.
Gerard’s Herbal describes eleven kinds of anemone. I quoted through the fifth since that one sounds like the anemone I photographed for this first post — because of their white color and notably for their tiny, sparse leaves that are shaped like coriander leaves, or, as I’ve read elsewhere, parsley leaves. This batch of anemone was growing in the corner shadows of the W.A. Rawson Mausoleum — which you can read more about here, or see some images of here — whose textured gray stone provided a nice background for the white flowers and wispy green stems.
While I often use some magic tricks to extract text from scanned books like Gerard’s Herbal, they didn’t work too well with this version since there are ghostly images bleeding through from other pages. Luckily I found a text version — which I used for the quote up-top, and where the language is partially modernized, though many “haths” and “doths” remain. And from there I found this delightful explanation for the genesis of “windflower” as the plant’s common name….
“Anemone, or Wind-Flower is so called for the flower doth never open itself but when the wind doth blow, as Pliny writeth: whereupon also it is named of divers Herba venti: in English, Wind-Flower.”
… followed by some notes about the plant’s medicinal properties — called “The Virtues” — which include:
“The leaves stamped, and the juice sniffed up into the nose purgeth the head mightily…. “The root champed or chewed procureth spitting, and causeth water and phlegm to run forth out of the mouth.“
Good to know, I guess! 🙂
Across this post and the next one, the plants appear to be Japanese Anemones (Eriocapitella hupehensis) or Snowdrop Anemones (Anemonoides sylvestris) — both of which tend to be fall-blooming anemones in warmer climates, and I normally see them flowering here in the southeast from late summer through late September or early October. I took these photos on October 6th and October 19th — when many of the flowers had already bloomed yet there were plenty still preparing to open.
“Sunflowers were cultivated in North America long before Columbus crossed the Atlantic. They were grown for food, but no doubt their dramatic appearance was part of the appeal. Certainly it was the look of the plant that prompted Europeans to take sunflowers back across the ocean. Once there sunflowers became a crop plant all over again, useful and humble. But now the plant is ineluctably associated with the cult of genius and the legend of the tormented artist.
“There are seventy species in the genus Helianthus, but it’s the cultivated species Helianthus annus that mostly concerns us here: the one with the flower-head that looks like the sun. It’s not technically a flower but an inflorescence. Each head comprises many individual flowers; each of the outer flowers, which most of us refer to as petals and a botanist calls ray heads, are in fact individual flowers. These outer flowers don’t do sex, being sterile: they are a come-hither signal to insect pollinators, which feed from the many tiny flowers arranged in cunning spirals on the central disc.”
“[Goldenrod] is as sturdy and as various as our population; there is delicate dwarf goldenrod, silver goldenrod, tall yellow goldenrod in a multitude of forms and shapes-spikes, plumes, and panicles of native gold….
“Descend into a bog and there, growing wild, is goldenrod; climb a mountain and there, between the crevices of boulders, is goldenrod; follow the shore of the sea and goldenrod gleams along the edge of the sands; drive along our highways from coast to coast in August and September and the fields and ditches are bright with goldenrod….
“The very ubiquity of the flower has given it a bad name as an irritant to hay-fever victims, but I’ve recently read that it is the ragweed and flowering grasses growing alongside goldenrod that are the villains during the late-summer hay-fever season. The goldenrod also has the great advantage… of owing nothing to man, of enriching no seed company, or companies, and of being as wild as our national bird, the eagle.”
“I see the sunflower’s broad disk now in gardens… a true sun among flowers, monarch of August. Do not the flowers of August and September generally resemble suns and stars? — sunflowers and asters and the single flowers of the goldenrod. I once saw one as big as a milk-pan, in which a mouse had its nest.”
This is the second of two posts with photos of sunflowers and goldenrod; the first post is Sunflowers and Goldenrod (1 of 2). For the photos in this post, I zoomed in on individual sunflowers or sprays of goldenrod — except for the three photos of a sunflower trio from behind (which are actually my favorites of this series).
As some interesting botanical info-bits:
Both the goldenrod plant and the sunflower plant are members of the Aster family Asteraceae. Sunflowers are in the Helianthus genus; goldenrod is mostly in the genus Solidago, but there are goldenrod varieties in other genuses also.
“For many of us, sunflowers are plants to grow for children. They are also important for the cut-flower industry, but are primarily an agricultural crop. Charred remnants of sunflower seeds from ancient Native American cave encampments have been pored over by archaeologists trying to work out when, where and how the plant was first domesticated. Current thinking is that this was in the region of the Ozarks (in the state of Arkansas), with hunter-gatherers collecting the protein-rich seeds to eat. Domestication reduced a large number of small heads to a smaller number of larger ones, and eventually to just one great big head. The plant spread across North and South America, and then, following the arrival of the conquistadores, by the sixteenth century it was in Spain and rapidly being taken up all over Europe — but initially only as an ornamental.”
“Goldenrods — for many the quintessential autumn flower — were one among the many daisy-family plants introduced to Europe in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. By the end of the latter century, various forms of two particularly vigorous species, S. gigantea and S. canadensis, were thriving as late-season border plants; they were popular as cut flowers, too. Both species are very vigorous, and by the middle of the next century they had well and truly escaped. They began to cover areas of waste ground in Germany, while in Britain it was the suburban rail network that took them far and wide, helped by domestic gardeners throwing unwanted plants over the back fences of gardens that lined the railway cuttings.
“By the late twentieth century the plants were thoroughly unpopular, and had given the whole genus a bad reputation. That is a shame, because many are garden-worthy plants, such as… S. rugosa, which spreads only slowly, looks very elegant and attracts butterflies in hordes…. There are many other species for a variety of habitats, and since all are good pollinator plants, their rehabilitation — particularly in the context of the current interest in native plants and ecological planting — seems well on the way and much deserved.”
Now thin mists temper the slow-ripening beams Of the September sun: his golden gleams On gaudy flowers shine, that prank the rows Of high-grown hollyhocks, and all tall shows That Autumn flaunteth in his bushy bowers; Where tomtits, hanging from the drooping heads Of giant sunflowers, peck the nutty seeds; And in the feathery aster bees on wing Seize and set free the honied flowers…
Cloud shadows rush over drying hay, fences, dusty lane, and railroad ravine. The first yellowing fronds of goldenrod brighten the margins of the woods.
Perhaps it’s because I’ve been trying to more accurately identify the plants and flowers I photograph — and also trying to learn about their history and distribution — but I just realized this year how so many plants in the Aster family (Asteraceae) mark the transition from summer to autumn. Here in the middle of Georgia and further south in the state, there’s very little fall color until well into November, the autumn reds and golds typically held at bay until temperatures remain low over several days or weeks.
The timing of Asters’ flowering seems quite intentional, as a result, with late coneflower, daisies, and Black-eyed Susans appearing in the last of August through early September; overlapped then followed by sunflowers and goldenrod; and those followed (with a few early exceptions) by legions of tiny asters that keep flowering into late November or even early December. For The Photographer, it’s an abundance of color that rivals spring and the early weeks of summer; and I’ve already accumulated several hundred photos of asters in purple, magenta, peach, white, and yellow colors that are patiently waiting their turn in Post-Processing.
From these collections, I pulled out the photos of sunflowers and goldenrod first, shown below and in the next post in this series of two. Many of the sunflowers were standing guard over large battalions of goldenrod, enabling me to produce some interesting combinations of foreground and background, with a single sunflower backgrounded by yellow-orange goldenrod. Much of the goldenrod seemed enormous to me, so I included a couple of photos showing it in front of an ancient Magnolia tree, where it stood as tall as five or six feet, with horizontal spans in the twenty- to thirty-foot range. For a plant that is often derided as a weed (how rude!) or as a wildflower — with its tendency to grow along roadsides or railroad tracks in expansive numbers — these cultivated batches of flowers and their thousands of dark green leaves are quite a sight to see.
I often find it challenging to develop an appropriate focal point for goldenrod photographs, simply because of the length and depth of their flowering stems and their voluminous leaves. To get larger sections of the flowering portions in front-to-back focus, I have to use aperture settings that also bring the backgrounds into focus, and I end out with somewhat flat-looking photos with too many distractions around the subject. Here, for example, is one of the images as it came out of the camera…
… where I imagine it’s apparent what I intend as the subject, but that subject is barely separated from the background. As a “first draft” for a photo like this, I’ll usually reduce shadows and increase contrast to try and pop out the subject; then reduce the saturation and brightness of the color green to create the appearance of greater distance in the background.
Together, those changes got me about halfway there with these images, but I followed them with two careful (very careful!) masks of both the background and the flowers so that I could adjust each separately, further darkening the background and adding color saturation and texture to the flowers in the foreground. I also removed a few visual distractions — like the yellow sprays in the lower left and upper right corners, as well as an intruder leaf toward the top left. Then I polished it off by using healing brushes to reconstruct a few of the goldenrod leaves that were bent or broken, disappeared some random rust spots or blurry pollinators, and ended out here, with the final version of this image…
… or here, where you can compare the two:
For all of the goldenrod and sunflower photos, I shifted the yellow color toward orange a little — partly because Lightroom detects orange in the flower petals but the bright yellow tends to hide it; and because — especially in lower light of a cloudy day — my eyes detect some warmer orange shades that seem to disappear when I adjust brightness and shadows. Or, in other words — I saw some orange so I’m showing you some orange too!