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Blazing Stars In The Garden
Blazing Stars In The Garden
Published by Porterbrook
Default Blazing Stars In The Garden


Frank W. Porter
Porterbrook Native Plants

Species of Liatris, commonly known as Blazing Star or Gayfeathers, offer some of the most striking blooms during the hot and dry months of summer. All of the Liatris species are perennials that grow from a thickened rootstock. Their leaves are alternate and entire. Liatris flowers are unusual because they bloom from the top of the inflorescence down instead of from the bottom up. The showy inflorescence exhibits intense shades from a light purple to a rose-purple to white.

In the wild, each species of Liatris inhabits a different ecosystem. Some thrive in moist meadows, while others prefer dry prairies, rocky outcrops, sand dunes, and shale barrens. The one thing they all have in common is the need for at least one-half a day of sun.

Native Americans discovered various medicinal uses of Liatris. The Cherokee, for example, devised a decoction of the root to relieve intestinal gas, increase urination, and ease backache. Folk medicine uses included treatment of sore throats, kidney stones, and gonorrhea. Another unusual use of Liatris among Native Americans involved chewing the corm and then blowing it up the nostrils of horses to keep them from getting out of breath.

Nothing is more suited for later summer color in a dry location in your garden than Liatris. All of the Liatris species are easy to grow. The difficulty arises from which species to choose for your garden. In the southeastern United States, there are an estimated twenty-two species. We can divide these species into two groups. One group develops an inflorescence that is wand-like in appearance. These inflorescences can range from six inches to as much as two feet in length. The other group has inflorescences on which the individual florets are borne on short petioles that appear as buttons or carnation-like flowers.

Liatris spicata, Marsh Blazing Star, is the most common species grown by gardeners. Unlike other species of Liatris, it prefers moist, open meadows. Liatris pycnostachys, Prairie or Cattail Blazing Star, is the tallest of the species, reaching nearly six feet in height. Its florescence can be nearly two feet in length. Liatris microcephala, Dwarf Blazing Star, is the smallest of the species, seldom growing more than eighteen inches in height. However, its inflorescence appears like a purple fountain emerging from the soil. It is perfectly suited for the rock garden or as a border along a path. Liatris squarrosa, Scaly Blazing Star, has deep green, shiny, leathery foliage with unique large, well-stalked , button flowers that appear in late summer. Liatris aspera, Rough Blazing Star, possesses long flower spikes with each producing a one-inch lavender-tasseled flower. Liatris cylindracea, Cylindric Blazing Star, may have few heads, some even solitary, but nevertheless has numerous florets. The bracts are tightly appressed in a cylinder. It is an excellent candidate for rocky, open woods, bluffs, and prairies. And it prefers alkaline soil. Liatris ligulistylis, Meadow Blazing Star, produces crimson-red buds that open to reveal brilliant purple/pink flowers. It is unsurpassed in attracting Monarch butterflies.

Some Liatris are rare and distinct from the above species. Liatris hellerii, Hellerís Blazing Star, is a federally endangered species that only grows in a very specific habitat.This species was probably never common due to its restricted and isolated habitat requirements. Because there are so few sites left, Hellerís Blazing Star has become vulnerable to seemingly minor threats such as trampling by hikers, climbers, and sightseers. Hellerís Blazing Star produces one or more flowering stalks, which rise above a rosette of narrow basal leaves and culminate in a stalk of lavender flowers. Liatris mucronata, Bottlebrush Blazing Star, has long, needle-like leaves that resemble a bottlebrush and has attractive purple flowers. Liatris scariosa nieuwlandii, Savannah Blazing Star, is a very rare species found growing on the south shores of the Great Lakes. With pink flowers and wide leaves, it makes a striking impression in the garden. Liatris odoratissima, Deerís Tongue or Vanilla Plant, does not possess a corm but rather develops fibrous roots. It flowers in September and October. The leaves, when dry, have a pleasant vanilla odor.

With so many species of Liatris from which to choose, gardeners can create a panorama of color, height, and foliage to brighten their summer and fall gardens. One way to maximize the effect of Liatris is to create a tiered garden design in which the taller species are placed in the back. The middle area would contain the species reaching between two and three feet. And the front would be a border of the more diminutive species, such as Liatris microcephala. As an added bonus, this small garden would become a haven for butterflies.

This article was first published by the Marietta Register
By Hedgerowe on 06-23-2009, 06:45 PM

Porterbrook, do you have photos of any of your blazing stars?
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By Porterbrook on 06-24-2009, 05:07 AM

Good morning Hedgerow,
I have several photographs of Liatris species on my website. I believe that Liatris spicata grows on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, but will have to check my references to see if any others are indigenous to that region.
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By Hedgerowe on 06-24-2009, 05:16 AM

I will visit your website, then. Thank you, Porterbrook!
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By joepyeweed on 06-24-2009, 11:05 AM

I do love blazingstars in my garden. They are one of my favorites.
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By Porterbrook on 06-24-2009, 03:07 PM

What species of Liatris are growing in your part of Illinois?
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By joepyeweed on 06-24-2009, 03:10 PM

I think its Prairie Blazing Star, Liatris pycnostachya

Though it may be L. spicata... I'll have to look at it again.. I may have both.
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By Porterbrook on 06-24-2009, 03:23 PM

Liatris spicata usually grows in moist meadows and is not as tall as L. pycnostachya. The flower wand on my L. pycnostachya has reached nearly two feet in length. Very spectacular in the midst of Andropogon gerardii.
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By Porterbrook on 06-24-2009, 03:26 PM

According to Brown, Liatris gramnifolia is common on the Eastern Shore. Liatris spicata has only one known station on the Eastern Shore. And Liatris squarrosa grows on the Coastal Plain. Any species present in your area should be in full bloom right now. You can key them out using Newcomb. Good luck.
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By joepyeweed on 06-24-2009, 03:34 PM

I looked at them yesterday, not in full bloom yet. The bloom spikes are there, they aren't purple yet;

I think of spicata has having an interrupted bloom along the spike, where pynchostachya bloom is more continuous... if you know what I mean by that...?

I have them planted in a spot mixed with little blue stem, joepyeweed and culversroot...big blue probably would have been a better choice for that location, but the lbs seems to be doing okay.
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blazing, garden, stars

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