University of Vermont Extension
Department of Plant and Soil Science
LADY IN BLACK
Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension
University of Vermont
my favorite fall perennials is the calico, or horizontal, aster and
(cultivated variety) ‘Lady in Black’.
This short perennial is hardy, with no serious problems, is deer
resistant, and its many small flowers are a rare late-season treat for
are in the composite or daisy family.
The species name for this one (lateriflorus)
comes from the fact flowers are often “lateral” or on the sides of
stems. Long known as being in the aster genus,
botanists have recently reclassified it with a much more complicated
seldom seen name (Symphyotrichum lateriflorum).
are small, only about one quarter to one half inch wide, yet covering
with branching sprays in fall gives quite a show. The small white
asters have raspberry-colored
centers, giving rise to the common name of calico aster.
horizontal aster variety (var. horizontalis)
has stems more in the horizontal plane, hence its name. ‘Lady in
Black’ has dark to purplish stems,
and purplish leaves, which provide a nice contrast to the white
flowers. It is similar to the older cultivar ‘Prince’,
only more upright.
While the horizontal aster may get to
about two feet high and wide, ‘Lady in Black’ may get to three feet
wide. It may be kept shorter by pinching
stems back by one third to one half in early summer. Under ideal
conditions, if too tall it may
in Black’ originally comes from the garden of Herman Van Beusekom in
Holland, while ‘Prince’ was introduced by Dr. Alan Leslie
of Monksilver Nursery, England. The calico aster species is native to northeastern North America, often seen as
one of the first plants to
come into abandoned pastures. As such it
is good for native plant gardens and meadow plantings. It is also
attractive massed in more formal
gardens, or placed along walks.
best in full sun in the north, it will grow in part shade just with
and fewer flowers. ‘Lady in Black’ will
have less purple color with less sun.
This species is found, and should be planted, in average to dry,
well-drained soil. It is hardy in USDA
zones 4 through 8, perhaps even colder.
than the mentioned possible pinching in early summer, this plant needs
care. Being one step removed from the
native species, it requires little fertility.
Applying a shovel full of compost around plants in spring as they
will help boost growth, as will an annual application of an organic
fertilizer. Compost or similar organic
matter such as peat moss, especially at planting, is much more
clay or sandy soils. Plants will seldom need dividing, unless they are
too large, or you need extra plants for yourself or friends.
in Black’ combines well with black-eyed susan,
red-leaved sedum, Russian sage, ornamental grasses such as red-leaved
blue-leaved switchgrass, interplanted with moor grass, or in front of
asters. Look for this choice recent
perennial online or in complete garden stores and specialty perennial
More choice, new, or underutilized perennials and their
descriptions can be found online on Perry’s Perennial Pages
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