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  • Today me and my partner went hiking down an old, closed road and came across this lovely New England Aster that sat still in the wind long enough to get a decent photo. (Decent, by iPhone camera standards, at least.)

    I've been considering starting a project where I would photograph and document a new species each time I go for a hike. After looking up this particular aster online I was surprised -- and somewhat disappointed -- to discover that this exceedingly common plant is rather poorly documented on Wikipedia. Perhaps it is not that surprising, after all, the number of plant species in any given person's backyard is likely in the hundreds yet most would struggle to name more than an handful. I could only name a couple dozen, if that.

    Of this aster I could find a few interesting facts to aid in identifying it in nature.

    This particular aster grows in open areas and along roadsides, whereas the Purplestem Aster (a species with a very similar flower) prefers swampy, more wet areas. You can also tell the two apart by grinding a leaf -- a spicy scent given off would be the calling card of the Purplestem.

    Another similar species is the Amethyst Aster, which is actually a cross of the New England and Heath Asters. Heath Asters are generally white flowers, and far more of them than most asters at that. Heath Asters will have dozens of flowers on one stem, perhaps a couple hundred on a plant. The resulting cross presents an aster that has more flowers than the New England species, but on a much smaller plant body.

    To those who are curious about its edibility, the dried stem, flowers, and leaves can be added to a salad, or made into a tea. There are some claims that indigenous peoples have used this plant for many purposes.

    Perhaps if I become more adventurous in my learning a follow-up will someday be written about the taste of a New England Aster tea.
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