Sunday, 11 November 2012

Asters (11 NOV 2012)

Last year I grew asters from packet seeds, they were lucky survivors following the slug attack in my plastic greenhouse which later blew over in a storm and has remained disassembled since.
I was delighted when three invincible seedlings finally produced blooms in three different colours. The dark lilac was my favourite, but I collected seeds from them all to help re-produce their offspring.

Double asters in 2011 - grown from packet seeds

I definitely remember collecting the seeds but not planting them. Anyway, two of my seedings planted this spring and propogated on the window sill of the visitor's bedroom, went on to produce daisy-like flowers. I didn't recognise them till a third plant with the same leaves presented a familiar, fluffy white pompom. Then I realised that the first two asters had reverted back to their ancestral single-form. If I was a statistician, I would be able to calculate the probability of re-producing flowers the same colour as the previous generation from an envelope containing a pinch of seeds of each. I'm guessing its 1/3 x 1/3 x 1/3 = 1/9 (assuming that there were the same number of seeds in each pinch and more dubiously that offspring have flowers of the same colour). I can't guess the probability of the offspring of a double aster reverting back to a single with the same colour. I suspect that most gardeners don't bother themselves with such calculations.

Aster variations in mid-autmn 2012 - grown from double aster seeds produced last year

After the carefully propogated asters died, my attention was drawn to the wild asters which were still in their prime, the only autumn flowers left apart from perennial sunflowers and fading sedums and hydrangeas. The wild asters, held behind the bars of the gate of my front garden, protested against the flowerless car-parking space. While those in my mother's garden challenged the sunflowers by climbing up through a rhododendron bush. I didn't even realise that these were in the aster family till I read US blogs where New England asters are celebrated as a native plant which attracts Monarch butterflies. Even these are dying back now.

Late-Autumn 2012 : Wild  or  New England Asters ?
 
It has been known for Monarch butterflies to make an appearance in the UK, blown off course during their migration from Canada to Mexico. It's a phenomenon of nature which I only discovered yesterday, that during autumn, monarch butterflies migrate towards the sun as it lowers towards the southern horizon, then return a few months later. This is made possible by their inherent instinct to orientate themselves in longitude and latitude. Even more incredible is that the same journey is travelled by different generations every year, as non-breeding butterflies have a lifespan of six to nine months, while butterflies breeding during the return journey only last six weeks. The great-grand-child finds itself back at the same spot in Canada that its great-grand-parent left and receives the calling to start the migration cycle again. Tourist guides recommend visiting Mexico between October and May as the weather after is hot and humid then freezing cold - it seems that the Monarch butterflies have got it figured out.
 
After reading about this migration pattern, I went in search of the last asters of the season wondering if the turbulent weather in the US may have blown some travellers across - maybe they would stop off for a snack in transit. I found a few lonely blooms hoping that their pollen would be spread as far as Mexico but no butterflies unfortunately.

Yesterday - a wild aster waiting for a migrating Monarch butterfly
 
The Monarch invasion of Great Britain, 1995 :
 
New York Times article about Monarch migration :
 
 
©Copyright 2012 b-a-g. All rights reserved. Content created by b-a-g for http://experiments-with-plants.blogspot.com/2012/11/asters-11-nov-2012.html

18 comments:

Crystal said...

Didn't know that Monarch butterflies had ever ventured over here. I've got one large wild aster blooming in my garden, but somehow I don't think any stray Monarchs will find it. In fact, even the local butterflies don't seem interested. Too cold now perhaps.

Mark and Gaz said...

They are lovely plants. Hope you'll have better success with them next year and get a really good show of blooms :)

Diana of Elephants Eye said...

each time I read about the Monarch butterfly migration, I mean to plant something for our African Monarchs. Those milkweed seeds ...

Donna@Gardens Eye View said...

One of my favorite flowers especially because it holds nectar for bees and butterflies...how lovely your mum had some of our native plants in her garden...they do look like New England asters.

HolleyGarden said...

Good information about the Monarchs. I wonder if the butterflies that are blown off course will hook up and the Monarch population will increase there. Wouldn't that be wonderful!

Becc said...

Very interesting!

gardenwalkgardentalk.com said...

I did not ever hear of Monarchs getting that far off course. Interesting. I love asters and so do many insects. The butterflies especially, Monarchs too. I grow three varieties plus let the wild ones in the garden in late Summer. Too bad about your greenhouse in pieces.

b-a-g said...

Woke up in the middle of the night realising that 1/3 x 1/3 x 1/3 = 1/27.

Andrea said...

Hi b-a-g, (it is difficult to type your name, but i have been doing it for a long time just to say Hi, haha!). Your asters are so beautiful esp that first 2 photos. May i know the size of its diameter? We have asters here but so different and very small compared to that. We just normally utilize our asters as fillers in arrangements.

Alistair said...

b-a-g, we grew these double Asters in our very first garden. In fact I can be scarily precise about stuff like this when so little of real importance goes on in my head. It was early May of 1969, I prepared single rows and sowed various annual seeds. They all flowered in their neat rows and the multi coloured dwarf double Asters flowered in the last week of September, I never grew them again, dont know why. I think I prefer your single ones. It is said if you have a range of Lupins of all different colours and collect the seeds the resulting blooms will all be blue. Mind you, I have never actually tried it.

linniew said...

I have a gps thing on my cell phone and I still couldn't tell you my latitude and longitude so I'm thinking of getting a butterfly app.
Good job growing those asters from seed. I may try again next year because of your encouraging post.

debsgarden said...

Those double asters are beautiful, but I am not surprised their seedlings reverted to the single form, which I think is also lovely. Migration of monarch and other butterflies is an interesting topic. There is so much about nature that seems a mystery.

Carolyn ♥ said...

I smiled... ok, I giggled... at the thought of you waking up in the night to correct your math. I would have most likely ran up the stairs to the computer to fix it right then. And you? Our silly minds... just let us sleep! (This is a rather common occurrence for me.)

The Enduring Gardener said...

Very interesting - I'll keep a look out for these. It seems the main foreign visitors we're getting at the moment are waxwings who have headed to our shores in search of berries due to a shortage in Sweden. I've not seen any of these either though.

digtheoutside said...

I absolutely adore Asters, yours looks lovely. I am definitely going to grow more next year - I'll watch out for slug attacks!!!

Angie said...

Enjoyed this blog very much. My asters didn't do too well this year a bit to wet I think! I have to say that in my garden the slugs pretty much ignore them. I wonder why that is.
Didn't know the monarch butterfly visited the UK either. Thanks

Janet/Plantaliscious said...

Hi b-a-g, those wild asters are beautiful, and I bet they are tough as old boots too. I love that single deep blue aster you got, I wonder what you will wind up with next year?

b-a-g said...

Thanks all for your comments.

I have a soft spot for the single asters because I feel I can take credit for them. After all, I could have just planted more packet seeds.

Crystal - I would also be grateful for any butterflies. Monarchs would be a dream come true.

Alastair - 1969!, surely it's time to have another go.

Answering the questions :
Andrea - My asters are about 10cm across. The wild asters are about 2cm across
Carolyn - It was too cold to get out of bed, but I did post my correction before breakfast the next day.

Janet - Thanks for reminding me, I forgot to collect the seeds! Hope they're not too damp.

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