FlowerMuse: Aster (Charlie Gard)

The battle of Charlie Gard, an 11 month old baby with mitochondrial disease has become a worldwide debate.  The desperate pleas from his parents to prolong his life – wherever and at whatever cost – have been a feature of the news headlines since April. Along the way raising a number of ethical issues but now it’s about who determines a meaningful of life – the State, the parents, the doctors? This week everyone wants to have their say; from President Trump to the Pope.

All seemingly rational routes have been exhausted; the legal, from the High Court in April to the European Court of Human Rights in June; the financial,  through crowdsourcing (The Charlie Gard GoFundMe page) funds of £1.3m have been raised; the medical – numerous medical assessments and MRI scans to determine his brain function (thought to be zero).

Now it’s all about the emotional. In a simplisitic depiction of good vs evil –  the dictorial establishment (medical and legal) and the powerless, desperate, distressed family.

The situation is now a muddle and a puddle.  Quality of life, dignity and humanity have got left behind as the political point-scoring and media headlining- spinning takes precedence. Whatever the final outcome though many tears are going to be shed.  This is truly a wretched situation – for everyone involved.

There’s a flower for little Charlie – the star-shaped aster; a flower that says, delicate, dignified and determined.

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A pretty daisy-like flower, also known as Starwort and Michelmas Daisy, Asters bloom from Summer to Autumn.  They come in an array of colours – white, red, pink, purple, lavender and blue, with mostly yellow centres – all cheery and cheerful.

They have long been considered an enchanted flower too (often captured by the Impressionists);

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Asters, Claude Monet (1880)


I end not far from my going forth

By picking the faded blue

Of the last remaining aster flower

To carry again to you. 

The Late Walk, Robert Frost


Star: There are several stories about how the aster came to be;

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One says the flower was created by the tears of the Greek goddess, Astraea. One night upset by how few stars there were in the dark sky, she began to cry. As she wept, her tears fell to the ground and turned into star-shaped flowers.  And so the flower was named after her, aster meaning star.

Another says asters were created when Virgo scattered stardust over the Earth. Where the stardust settled, aster flowers bloomed.

And so because the ancient people believed asters to be made of stardust, they were considered sacred, and planted around their temples to honour the gods.


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Aegeus and Theseus



In the story of the Minotaur, Aegeus’ son, Theseus, volunteered to be one of the seven Athenian boys sacrificed to the half-man/half-bull.  Theseus vowed to his father that if he succeeded in killing him, he would return with white sails on his ship.  When he forgot to do this, Aegeus believed him to be dead and killed himself.  Where his blood flowed, purple asters grew.

The aster also became the emblem of Venus, the goddess of love; today they are often placed in wedding bouquets as a talisman of devoted love.


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The Aster Revolutionaries, Budapest 1918



Asters are also associated with determination and a wish for change. In 1918, left-leaning Hungarian revolutionaries – all wearing asters – successfully overthrew the the ruling elite in Budapest. Now known as the Aster Revolution this short lived Republic forced the Austro-Hungarian Emperor, Charles IV to relinquish power, only to be overthrown themselves a year later.  A regency government was then put in place to rule Hungary until the Communists came in

And in France, asters were reportedly placed on the graves of soldiers, to honour their bravery and valour and to wish their stories had ended differently.



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The Aster Fairy



Asters are the enchanters of the garden.  They tell you when the weather will change- closed petals are a sign of imminent rain. People once thought magical fairies slept under aster petals after they closed at sunset.  And that they are harbingers of good luck.


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As a holistic remedy asters are used for various respiratory ailments such as coughs, lung deficiencies and asthma.  An effective decongestant for the lungs, especially for colds and flu.

In Chinese culture, the aster is used as a medicinal herb to treat a wide variety of ailments, from hangovers and indigestion to epilepsy.


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To be other:  There’s little we can usefully do for Charlie Gard now except hope he’s pain-free and not in any distress.   Like those who placed asters on soldiers graves, we honour the bravery and valour of the Gard family and wish it all may have been different.


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Aster botanical print, Virgil (1905)



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