Asters are late-season composite flowers that are abundant in the Mid-South. There are over 100 species of asters, with most occurring east of the Mississippi River. The plants range in size from six inches to three feet in height. Very common is the three-foot-tall white heath aster, which has white rays and yellow to reddish centers. This plant blooms from August through December and often attracts great numbers of honeybees as well as other insects. A low-growing, light blue-flowered aster is also common in lawns in the late summer and fall. Both species are found along dry roadsides, open woods, and idle land. While many asters bloom in the spring and early summer, only the late-season flowers seem to be attractive to honey bees. Asters are foraged for both nectar and pollen at a time when there is often a scarcity of other flowers in bloom. Aster plants are used as deer browse in the spring and summer months. A number of asters, such as the purple-colored asters in one of our pollinator gardens, have been developed for ornamental plantings.
Aster honey is as light in color as white clover honey. It is, however, usually colored amber or yellow by honey from goldenrod or other late-blooming autumn plants. All honey granulates over time, and aster honey has a tendency to granulate quite quickly. Sometimes granulated aster honey can be found in the comb when the first brief hive inspection is made on a warm day in January. When first gathered, aster honey has a strong odor; but this disappears when it has ripened. As one of the few abundant late-season sources of nectar and pollen, the asters are truly important bee plants. Click on today’s photo to see a honey bee foraging for pollen from a purple aster. When the beekeeper sees aster pollen being brought into the hive, it usually means that the queen is still laying eggs for worker bees that will support the colony in the spring.