Everything You Need to Know About the History, Origins, Meaning, and Symbolism of China Aster Flowers
China aster flowers, or Callistephus chinensis, are cultivated around the world. These lovely annuals are prized for their cheerful blooms, with rays of colorful petals arranged around a cheerful yellow center. Widely grown both as ornamental plants and for their cut flowers, China asters come in a wide range of varieties. Named after the Greek word for “star,” these bright flowers also symbolize love, wisdom, and faith. Here we’ll take you through everything you need to know about the origins and history of China Aster flowers, their meaning and symbolism, and cultural significance around the world today.
China Aster Flower Meaning & Symbolism – The Essentials
China aster flowers take their name from the Greek for “star.” In Greek mythology, these star-shaped blooms were placed on the altars of the Gods, making them a symbol of love, wisdom, and faith. To the Victorians, a gift of China asters stands for love and daintiness in the language of flowers.
About China Aster Flowers
Family, Genus, and Taxonomy
China asters are the only species in the Callistephus genus, which is part of the Asteraceae family. Asteraceae contains about 1,900 genera and 32,000 species, including common ornamental flowers such as daisies, zinnia, chrysanthemums, coreopsis, and sunflowers.
Botanical Characteristics, Colors, Fragrances
C. chinensis is a cool weather annual that grows to about 3 feet tall. Its green, ovate foliage is alternate with serrated margins.
In summer, flowers bloom atop a single erect stem. Flowers reach from 3 to 6 inches in diameter. While showy, flowers don’t have much fragrance.
C. chinensis flowers are reddish-purple. The many cultivated varieties bloom in a range of colors, including white, gold, yellow, orange, red, burgundy, blue, and purple.
What regions are China Aster Flowers Native to?
China aster flowers are native to China. However, they are now cultivated around the world.
When are China Aster Flowers in Season?
In northern temperate climates, China asters bloom from July to September.
History & Origins of China Aster Flowers
China asters have been cultivated in China for at least 2,000 years. It’s thought that the flowers were introduced in Europe by Jesuit missionaries in the 1730s.
The species was brought to North America at the end of the 18th century. They quickly became a popular ornamental flower. Thomas Jefferson loved China asters and grew them in his gardens at Monticello.
Today, these lovely flowers are cultivated in temperate zones around the world. They’re most often grown for their use as cut flowers.
Popular Types, Species, and Cultivars
Botanists and home gardeners alike have cultivated China asters for centuries, resulting in numerous varieties. Among the most popular are:
- ‘Blue and White’: Double flowers are deep violet with a white ring in the middle
- ‘Crego Giant’: Large flowers have curled petals and resemble chrysanthemums
- ‘Fireworks’: Thin petals that look like exploding fireworks in shades of pink, purple and white
- Gala: Tall varieties that reach up to 32 inches and have quill-tipped petals that make great fresh-cut flowers
- ‘Gremlin Double’: Flower heads look like fluffy pom-poms
- Milady: Compact yet full, these varieties reach up to 20 inches tall and thrives in containers
- ‘Ostrich Feather’: Double blooms have feathery petals
- ‘Purple Burst’: Semi-double flowers with purple and white variegated petals
- Ribbon: Compact (up to 12 inches tall) variety with bi-colored blooms that’s perfect for containers
- Serenade: Small varieties that produce double flowers
- Super Baby: A double-bloom line prized for use as fresh-cut flowers
China aster flowers get their name from their country of origin, China, and the Greek word for “star,” due to their star-shaped blooms. The genus name Callistephus comes from the Greek word kalli, which means “beautiful,” and stephos, which means “crown.”
Uses and Benefits of China Aster Flowers
While most popular as ornamental and cut flowers, China asters also have medicinal uses. Traditional Chinese medicine utilizes the plant to treat a number of ailments, such as reducing swelling and pain, improving eyesight, and clearing the liver.
The Iroquois used aster leaves to create a laxative. The Ojibwa treated headaches with the roots. Scientific research indicates that compounds found in C. chinensis contain flavonoids that may aid in treatment of diabetes.
Aster plants are edible. Native Americans used the roots in soup and ate foliage as greens. Today, aster flowers are used to make tea or eaten fresh in salads.
China asters are not toxic to humans, dogs, cats, or horses.
When planted in the landscape, China aster flowers attract bees — especially long-tongued species — and butterflies.
China Aster Flower Meaning & Symbolism
To the Victorians, a gift of China asters was a symbol of love and daintiness. They may also be a symbol of patience and charm. Along with their message of devotion and love, in the language of flowers, a gift of an aster might mean “take care of yourself for me.”
C. chinensis flowers are reddish-purple and symbolize love, faith, and wisdom. Varieties bloom in a wide range of colors, and some have specific meanings, such as:
- Purple for wisdom and royalty
- White for purity and innocence
- Red for eternal devotion
- Pink for love and sensitivity
The Cultural Significance of China Aster Flowers
China aster flowers have a rich association with myth and folklore. To the ancient Greeks, the flowers represented the god Jupiter. Legend has it that Jupiter caused a huge flood that killed many warriors. The goddess Astraea was so upset that she turned into a star. Her tears fell to earth, and where they landed, China asters grew.
Other stories tell of Virgo scattering stars across the sky. Stardust fell to earth, causing asters to grow. Yet another myth associates asters with Venus, goddess of love.
In Germany and England, many believed that asters were magical. The French lay bouquets of asters on the graves of fallen soldiers; here the aster is known as “Eye of Christ.”
In North America, the Cherokee tribe believes the flowers stand for the blue fringed dresses worn by sisters who fled from a battle. Here, they’re also the official flower of 20th anniversaries and of September birthdays.
China asters are represented in art and literature. Henri Rousseau (`Le Douanier’) painted asters in his 1909 work “Bouquet of Flowers.” The poet Robert Frost uses asters as a symbol of hope in his poem “A Late Walk.”
Suitable Gifting Occasions for China Aster Flowers
Given these flowers’ array of colors, it’s no surprise that they can be used for a range of occasions and events. Of course, they’re perfect for anniversaries, Valentine’s Day, and date nights, thanks to an association with love and devotion.
They’re also perfect for birthdays and are especially associated with September birthdays. Anytime you want to let someone know you care, a gift of asters does the trick.
How to Grow and Care for China Aster Flowers at Home
China asters are easy to grow at home. They grow best in USDA hardiness zones 2 to 11 and thrive in beds, containers, and hanging baskets.
They prefer full sun to partial shade exposures. Consistently moist, rich, and well-drained soil is ideal. Don’t overwater, but don’t let them dry out either. Be sure plants have good air circulation and provide support for taller stems.
Fertilize during the growing season with a well-balanced, granular, slow-release fertilizer. Don’t provide too much nitrogen, though, as this may encourage foliage, rather than flower, growth.
Fresh-cut China aster flowers can last up to three weeks. Keep them looking fresh by changing the water frequently, keeping them out of the direct sun, and cutting stems on a diagonal.
China asters bring a range of colors, heights, and blooms to the summer garden. Prized as ornamental plants and for their cut flowers, these lovely annuals also have a rich history. From Greek myth to Native American folklore, C. chinensis offers both rich symbolism and cultural meaning. The plants also have medicinal uses and have played a role in Chinese medicine and Native American healing traditions. In the language of flowers, the symbolism of a gift of China asters may represent love, devotion, purity, and wisdom. They’re a perfect way to let someone know you care.
China Aster Flower FAQs:
Do China asters come back every year?
China asters are annuals and do not come back every year. You will need to sow seeds or plant starts every season.
Are China asters hard to grow?
China asters are easy to grow under the right conditions. Rich, moist, well-drained soil and full sun to partial shade are ideal growing conditions.
Are China asters annuals or perennials?
China asters are cold-weather annuals.
What colors do China asters come in?
China asters bloom in a range of colors. While the species flowers in reddish-purple, varieties come in white, gold, yellow, purple, red, orange, and burgundy.
Is China aster considered invasive?
Though not a North American native, C. chinensis is not considered an invasive species.