Place Where You Live:

Buffalo, New York

Bee visiting a backyard aster in western New York. Image credit: Maureen Conners.

I used to pull the young asters out of the yard thinking that they were just weeds. In my defense, the young plants look nothing like the mature ones. Then, curiosity got the best of me and I let a few live through summer. Come late summer, hundreds of tiny buds had formed. Excited, I checked nearly every day to see when they would burst. First, a few dainty white and yellow flowers appeared, and this was followed by a riot of many more. They were asters, wildflowers native to North America.

Next the bees came, and they came in droves. In autumn, food sources for pollinators are scarce and the asters really stood out across the slowly browning landscape of western New York. I vowed to let more asters grow next year.

By the following year, I had a dozen or so aster plants in bloom. I observed several different species of bees visiting the flowers, such as honeybees and bumblebees. There were tiny black beetles too! I wished them all luck throughout the winter and hoped that the extra nourishment from the asters would help see them through.

Growing the asters was incredibly easy—all I had to do was not pick the young plants from the soil in spring. The hard part was realizing that my neighbors likely saw my backyard as weedy. To alleviate my uneasiness about this issue, I actually explained the significance of the plants to one unsuspecting neighbor who had wandered close to my fence while I was tidying up the yard one day.

My next “let it grow” experiment involved a burdock plant. If you have never seen one, they are very impressive plants. The leaves on young, first-year plants are larger than a dinner plate—so obviously, this new plant growing in my yard piqued my curiosity. Burdock growth the subsequent year is vertical, and the plant in my yard quickly shot up to chest level. This one is going to be harder to explain to the neighbors. Maybe I’ll tell them that burdock is edible.