We wait all summer for New England Aster to show off its beautiful lilac-purple to bright pinkish flowers, and it never disappoints.
Dense clusters of flowers attract a variety of pollinators in the fall with bright-colored flowers, lots of pollen, and nectar.
Besides being a very attractive addition to the garden, New England Aster is an important late-season resource for pollinators, especially Monarch butterflies as they fatten up before fall migration. Flower nectar and pollen are energetically harvested by lots of bee species, as they top off their hive or overwinter nest supplies.
Honeybees, which I rarely see in my backyard, were numerous on this patch of New England Aster and were collecting both nectar and pollen. This bee already has good-sized pollen baskets on its rear legs.
Common eastern bumblebees (center) were probably the most common bee on these flowers, but shared the resources with at least five other species of bees and a couple of species of Syrphid flies (hoverflies), seen in top left.
Both a large bodied (about as big as a honeybee) and a smaller bodied hoverfly worked the flowers. These are bee mimics, presumably avoiding predation by pretending to be fearsome stingers. However, they have no weapon defense except their coloration, and have only one pair of wings (unlike bees and wasps which have two pair) with which they hover over and between flowers.
A smaller green sweat bee is unperturbed by the far larger bumblebee foraging next to it. There isn’t really much competition when there are so many flowers in this patch of aster.
I assume bees can smell or taste the presence of nectar in a particular flower, so some of the flowers got worked over very intensively by some bees that probed their tongues into every recess in the collection of disk florets in the orange center of the flower.
Honeybees and bumblebees are particularly good dispersers of flower pollen, as it easily attaches to the spines on their legs or hairs on their heads and bodies, as seen in the photo above. The smooth exoskeletons of the body and legs of the hoverflies and sweat bees make them far less effective in transferring pollen from one plant to another.
If you live east of the Rocky Mountains where New England Aster grows, you might have noticed the profusion of aster flowers that has suddenly occurred over the past couple of weeks. I assume synchronous blooming like this over widespread areas is probably triggered by the changing daylength, and is advantageous in pulling in large number of pollinators to maximize pollination and seedset in these asters.