Asters get their name from the Greek “astron” derived from the Latin “astrum.” Both words mean “star,” and are the same roots from which we fashion a whole host of words including “asterisk” and “astronomy.” A hillside of blooming asters is like looking at a tawny sky spangled with gleaming purple stars.
Of course, to describe a New England aster merely as purple, is like saying the Grand Canyon is a big hole. As a description it is both monumentally understated while failing entirely to convey any sense of the breathless wonder induced in the viewer. The purple of the New England aster isn’t a mundane purple; rather it’s a magnificent electric purple. A kingly Tyrian purple, like the dye the ancient Romans once obtained from a certain species of mollusk. An imperial purple, of a shade long reserved for the fabrics worn by monarchs and magistrates.
Up close, a single flower head of New England aster atop its stout, waist-high stem, is a vision of astonishing beauty. Two inches across, with a golden center disk around which numerous bright purple rays radiate like light from a miniature amethystine sun.
Now, back off a pace or two, and look at the whole plant. Not one miniature sun but a multitude of a dozen or more suns, clustered about the stem, each afire in incandescent purple glow. And that’s just the power of a single blooming New England aster plant. In fact, asters seldom grow alone. A clump of three or four, maybe a dozen, is more the norm.
A thick swath of blooming New England asters bordered by an autumn woods in shades of red and yellow and orange, is truly a sight to behold. If there are a few goldenrods and a lingering Queen Anne’s lace or two nearby, so much the better.
But it's always the cool starry fire of purple asters that provides the scene with depth and richness. Simply put…asters leave me awed.