These cheerful annuals are enjoying renewed popularity.
by Steven W. Brown, AIFD
1 crowning beauty. The genus name Callistephus (pronounced ka-LIS-te-fus) is derived from the Greek words “kallos” (beautiful) and “stephanus” (crown). This popular, long-lasting and economical cut flower, commonly known as China aster or annual aster, usually has a solitary blossom, but breeding advancements have produced plants that differ in height, growth habit, and shape and size of the flower heads as well as varieties that produce single, semidouble or double blossoms. As cut flowers, China asters have rigid stems that are often 24 inches to 36 inches long. They hold long-lasting blossoms that don’t drop petals.
2 family connections. China asters belong to the huge Compositae, or Asteraceae, family, which, with more than 20,000 species, is one of the largest commercially cultivated families. They are close cousins to black-eyed Susans, marigolds, chrysanthemums, sunflowers, marguerites and Gerberas as well as some 140 other genera.
3 from the great wall. Native to China, where ancient people believed that the odor of burning aster leaves drove away serpents, these annual blossoms claim more than 600 species. One of the most popular is the ‘Matsumoto’ series.
4 special meanings. In the traditional language of flowers, China asters symbolize “fidelity,” “variety” and “I will think of thee.” They are among the floral symbols for Taurus, the bull in the Zodiac.
5 many color choices. China asters are available in almost every color except true blue, including white, yellow, pink, red, purple, violet, coral and apricot. Most have solid colors, but some are bicolored or multicolored. There also is a unique chartreuse variety called ‘Envy’.
6 a summer bloomer. Primarily used for summertime floral designs, China asters are available year-round from growers in California and other domestic sources, and they are most readily available from May through September from Dutch sources.
7 buying right. When shopping for China asters, look for flowers that already have opened. If the flowers are cut too early, they will become limp. Avoid purchasing stems that exhibit evidence of powdery mildew, leaf spotting or yellowing, damaged blossoms or mold.
8 clean, clean, clean. Upon receipt, unpack the bunches, and remove foliage that will fall below the water line. Cut at least 1 inch off each stem, and dip or place the stems into a hydration solution. Then place them into a properly prepared flower-food solution, and store them in a floral cooler, allowing the flowers to take up water for at least two hours before designing with or selling them. China asters fare best at 36 F to 38 F.
With proper care, China asters can have a vase life of up to 10 days. Advise customers to recut the stems and change the water at least every other day for maximum vase life.
9 design away. China asters add mass and color to mixed summer bouquets and arrangements. Use large flowers for focal interest in any arrangement or dwarf hybrids in miniature designs, or cluster them together in larger arrangements for more impact.
10 sympathy symbolism. Historically, China asters have been placed on the graves of French soldiers to symbolize the wish that things had turned out differently.
Dave Repetto, Repetto Flower Growers, Half Moon Bay, Calif., and Flower Society,www.flowersociety.com.
Steven W. Brown, AIFD, is a professor and department chair of horticulture and floristry at City College of San Francisco with 28 years of consulting and educational experience in the floral industry. You may contact him by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at (415) 239-3140.