University of Vermont Extension
Department of Plant and Soil Science

Fall News Article


Contact: Dr. Leonard Perry. Extension Professor
University of Vermont

As fall arrives in the northeast, so do the asters and goldenrod in the fields. Although native to our area, many forms of these plants also are native to other parts of the world and are recorded in myths passed down over the centuries.

In Latin aster means star, the name also used by the Greeks for this flower. The "star-flower" was believed to be sacred to the gods and so wreaths of asters were placed on their altars. Aster leaves were burned to frighten away serpents in medieval Europe and roots were crushed and fed to bees in poor health. Although the early English name was "starwort," later the flower was named "Michaelmas Daisy" as it blooms around St. Michaelmas Day in September.

One ancient myth arises from the Iron Age, when people learned to make tools as well as weapons of iron. The god Jupiter, angered by all the fighting and destruction from these iron weapons decided to destroy the entire race by a flood.

The gods fled the earth and the last to go, the goddess Astraea, was so saddened she asked to be turned into a star. Meantime, two mortals who had been faithful to the gods fled to the top of Mount Parnassus and were spared by Jupiter.

When the flood waters receded, all that was left around the two mortals was mud and slime. Astraea felt so sorry for them she wept, her tears falling as stardust which, when upon hitting the earth, turned to lovely starflowers or asters.

Another myth comes from Greek mythology. Each year Aegeus, king of Athens, would send seven young men and seven maidens to the king of Crete. There they would be sacrificed to the Minotaur, a creature with a bull's body and human head.

One year Aegeus' son Theseus volunteered to be one of the youth, believing he could slay the Minotaur. When he sailed for Crete he told his father, who dearly loved his son, that when he returned he would fly white sails on the ship instead of the black ones that were raised when the ship left.

Theseus did arrive at Crete, where he fell in love with the king's daughter Ariadne. With her help, he entered the labyrinth and killed the Minotaur.

However, on his return to Athens, Theseus forgot to hoist the white sails. Seeing the black sails his father, believing his son had been killed, then killed himself. Purple asters sprang up from the ground where his blood flowed, the result of a spell put on him by sorceress Medea, who had been once been his wife.

And then there is the Cherokee Indian legend from the southern part of our country. Two warring tribes, fighting over a choice hunting ground, waged war over a hill, down a valley, across a creek, and into a village. All the villagers were killed except for two sisters who hid in the woods. Both wore doeskin dresses, one dyed lavender-blue with fringe, the other one bright yellow.

The sisters sought out the Herb Woman who lived over the mountain in another valley. This woman gathered herbs by day and brewed magic potions by night, a gift given to her by the gods.

As the sisters slept that night under the stars, the Herb Woman looked into the future and saw that these little girls would be hunted down by the enemy. So she sprinkled them with a magic brew and covered them with leaves.

In the morning there were two flowers where the sisters had been. One was the lavender-blue aster, the fringe from the dress having been turned into the outer flower petals (ray flowers) of the aster. The other flower was the yellow goldenrod.

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