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Purple-Stemmed Aster

October 20, 2010

Location: New England

As the deciduous trees shed their colorful canopy, I should look down more when I’m hiking. The trail can be slick with its carpet of leaves, though sometimes a slick spot surprises me. Just this week, I was hiking off Mount Garfield in New Hampshire’s White Mountains. My legs ached as we neared the end of the 11.5-mile route. Suddenly, I found myself butt-down in the mud. I never noticed the smooth-topped rock under the leaves. Luckily, I landed in the mud and not on the rock. As I scrambled back onto my feet, I noticed a particularly colorful aster next to the trail.
As the autumn fades from red and gold to brown, one wildflower, the Purple-stemmed aster (Symphotrichum puniceum) still brightens the woods. It’s my favorite aster, with its 1 1/2 –inch lilac petals and sunny yellow centers. These native perennials bloom from August to November (in Southern New England), though I most commonly notice them in October in New Hampshire. They are easy to identify because of their reddish, hairy stem, though sometimes the stem is green. And they love wet areas, which is why I found this clump while acquiring my muddy butt.

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