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The California aster is a delicate flower native to the warmer parts of southern California. Ranging in color from white to dusky purple, it features slender, drop-shaped petals and a slim, delicate stem. The leaves are small and soft, ranging from bright green to dusky silver-blue. Some varieties of California aster have serrated leaves, but most have smooth-edged leaves. They attract birds and insects, growing in isolated clusters in the wild.
From pale blue, to white, to lavender, the subtly colored petals of the California aster almost always surround a bright yellow center. Unlike other flowers, the center of the aster is made up of many small, yellow cones. Each cone contains nectar and pollen-rich stamen. The central cone in the middle of the California aster typically contains the pestle, a long tube that contains partially-formed seeds. When pollen slips into the pestle, the seeds begin to form into true seeds.
Most California aster flowers don’t look like much more than weeds before they bloom. Their leaves are small and stubby, typically alternating along the stems like pliable little spikes. Aster buds look like tiny green pinecones. Many gardeners don’t find this phase of the California aster very pleasing as a garden accent. Some solve this problem by planting asters among early-blooming flowers to hide them until they bloom.
Once open, the California aster usually brings no end of beauty to a garden. Though the flowers themselves are delicate and usually not very showy, the creatures they attract usually make up for the lackluster blooms. Hummingbirds, butterflies, bees, and other nectar-drinking creatures love the aster. Those that want to cultivate a butterfly garden might do well by setting out a few pots of aster each spring and summer. Many different colors of butterfly enjoy aster nectar.
Beekeepers that like to control what their bees eat may successfully plant aster for their hives to feed on. The nectar is light and sweet, generally producing a good-quality floral honey. Planting bee-friendly flowers around the hives also helps keep the bees close to their homes, reducing the risk that they might be eaten or killed.
When planting California aster, gardeners must consider their surroundings. The aster cannot survive frosts and ice, so those in temperate climates might consider planting it as an annual. Containers are also an option, allowing gardeners to move the aster from the warmth indoors to the sun outdoors in the spring and summer. Those living in sub-tropical or very warm conditions may plant the aster directly in the ground. These flowers need little moisture or attention, though regular watering is typically necessary during very warm days and droughts.