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Botanical Musings


Many of us are familiar with Robert Frost as a poet who uses nature as the setting and focus of much of his writing. His poem “A Late Walk” is rich with images of autumn. Frost describes the seasonal transformation of the landscape in the mown field, the covered path, the tangled garden, the sad whir of birds, and the bare trees. The last stanza portrays both memories of the season gone and hope for future seasons that are held in “the faded blue, Of the last remaining aster flower.” Why did Frost choose an aster? Why did he feel such a strong association between the aster and the changing of the seasons? What is so special about this little blue flower? 

A Late Walk

by Robert Frost (1874-1963)                                                

When I go up through the mowing field,
The headless aftermath,
Smooth-laid like thatch with the heavy dew,
Half closes the garden path.

And when I come to the garden ground,
The whir of sober birds
Up from the tangle of withered weeds
Is sadder than any words.

A tree beside the wall stands bare,
But a leaf that lingered brown,
Disturbed, I doubt not, by my thought,
Comes softly rattling down.

I end not far from my going forth
By picking the faded blue
Of the last remaining aster flower
To carry again to you.

The aster is known for its bountiful blooms, striking color, and its ability to survive long after many other wildflowers have withered. The aster symbolizes the lingering life still present in the autumn and the foreshadowing of life that will thrive again in the spring.

Here in central Virginia, there are many varieties of asters, including Symphyotrichum oblongifolium, commonly known as Aromatic Aster, Fall Aster, or Wild Blue Aster. It is native to much of the central and eastern United States. Aromatic Aster grows 20-30 inches tall and has many fragrant, ray-like, blue to purple blooms. Since it produces nectar bearing flowers late into the fall, it is important to pollinators as well as other wildlife.

To find Aromatic Aster, look for the blueish purple flowers that last long into the autumn found on the edge of forests or along roadsides, as well as planted in gardens. Observe if there are any pollinators such as bees, moths, or butterflies. Smell the floral fragrance of the Aromatic Aster, and like Robert Frost, let it remind you of seasons past and the promise of spring to come.

To learn more about wildflowers in Virginia, check out:

National Audobon Society Field Guide to North American Wildflowers: Eastern Region by John Thieret

National Wildlife Federation Field Guide to Wildflowers of North America by David Brandenburg

Native Plants for Virginia's Capital Region First Edition published by Plant RVA Natives

To explore more poetry by Robert Frost, check out:

Selected Poems of Robert Frost

Collected Poems, Prose & Plays 

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