Liatris produces tall spikes of purple flowers in late summer.

Blazing Star or Gay Feather (Liatris spp.) is a native American perennial that produces tall spikes of bright purple bottlebrushes above the tufts of green, grass-like leaves in late summer. Another old common name for this plant is Colic Root, alluding to its medicinal use as an antispasmodic for the intestines among other uses. Depending on the species, the clump-forming plant arises from a corm, rhizome or elongated root crown. The small flowers open from the top to bottom on the spikes, unlike most plants whose flowers open from the bottom upward as the spike develops. Depending on the species or variety and environmental conditions, the flower spike will be 1 to 5 feet tall. It generally stays very upright and needs no staking, unless grown in very rich, moist soil. The finely textured foliage stays attractive all summer and turns a rich bronze in fall. Liatris is hardy to zone 3.

Liatris flowers.

Liatris is a valuable addition to the perennial garden as a vertical contrast to mounded or broad-leaved plants, and is also at home in the meadow, a native plant garden or naturalized areas. The purple flowers contrast nicely with yellow-flowered plants such as cosmos, Coreopsis ‘Moonbeam’, goldenrod (Solidago) or Phlomis fruticosa and blend well with pink flowering plants such as Callirhoe (poppy mallow), Malva, and purple coneflower (Echinacea). It also combines well with prairie grasses and silver foliage plants such as Artemesia and Stachys (lamb’s ear). It looks particularly nice when planted in large sweeps or drifts in informal settings. In the formal garden it works well individually.

Liatris flowers are attractive to bees and butterflies.

The flowers are very attractive to butterflies, bees, and other insects. They also make great cut flowers, both fresh and dried. For dried flowers, harvest the spikes when one-half to two-thirds of the flowers are open. They can be air-dried (by hanging upside down in a protected spot for about 3 weeks) or by using a desiccant (such as silica-gel or sand) which often preserves blossom color better.

Liatris is in the family Asteraceae. The individual flowers of Liatris blooms have no rays like the typical daisy flower in this group, only fluffy disk flowers that supposedly resemble blazing stars. The genus Liatris is a taxonomically complex group of about 32 species that occur in almost every U.S. state east of the Rocky Mountains and extending into southern Canada and Northern Mexico.

Liatris can be used in borders or informal meadow plantings.

Three species are listed (or are candidates for listing) on the Federal Endangered Species List. At least 13 species and several hybrids, are grown as garden plants. The three most common ones in cultivation are L. aspera, L. pycnostachya and L. spicata.

Liatris aspera (Rough Blazing Star) is native from southwestern Ontario to Minnesota and south to Florida and Texas, where it inhabits dry, sandy fields, dunes, abandoned roads, and railroad embankments. The purple flowers are produced in August, on stems anywhere from 15 inches to 3½ feet tall.

Liatris pycnostachya (Prairie Blazing Star, Kansas Gayfeather, or Button Snakeroot) naturally occurs from Indiana to South Dakota and south to Florida, Louisiana, and Texas. There it typically inhabits damp meadows and tall grass prairie. In August and September it produces purple, rose-purple, or white flowers. Flower spikes are 2 to 5 feet tall. This species is not easy to distinguished from L. spicata.

Liatris spicata is a more eastern species, found from Long Island to Michigan, south to Florida and Louisiana, in marshy places and damp meadows. It flowers from July through September on spikes 2 to 5 feet tall.

Varieties

There are both white and purple varieties of Liatris available commercially.

Selections of the species are propagated exclusively by corm division, and are therefore generally more uniform than plants from seed. However, the rate of increase from corm division is slow; as a consequence named varieties typically costs more than seed-propagated plants.

  • ‘Alba’ has pure white flowers about 18 inches tall.
  • ‘Callilepsis’ produces long stems so is a good choice for cut flowers.
  • ‘Floristan Violett’ is a strong-stemmed cultivar favored by professional florists for its thick, violet-hued flower spikes.
  • ‘Kobold’ is a small, compact type with deep purple flower heads. This can be placed at the front of the perennial border.

Cultivation

The grass-like foliage emerges in early spring.

Plant Liatris in full sun and well-drained soil, spacing the plants 12-15 inches apart. Liatris performs best when grown in full sun, but it will tolerate some light shade. It also tolerates poor soils, and some types will flop over if grown in too rich of a soil. Container-grown plants are best planted in early spring, but they can also be planted in early fall. Water regularly during the first growing season to establish a strong root system. Once established, Liatris is fairly drought tolerant.

Good drainage and aeration will enable the plant to survive wet winters. Plants will rot if the soil is too moist. Fertilize before new growth begins in spring.

Liatris plants just before blooming.

Liatris does not have any significant insect problems, but is subject to several diseases, including leaf spots (Phyllosticta liatridis and Septoria liatridis), rusts (Coleosporium laciniariae and Puccinia liatridis), stem rot (Sclerotinia sclerotiorum), powdery mildew (Erysiphe cichoracearum), and wilt (Verticillium albo-atrum). Spacing plants to allow for sufficient sunlight and air circulation will help minimize disease problems.

Propagation

Liatris can easily be grown from seed. Start indoors or sow directly in the garden in early spring. Seeds should germinate in 20-45 days. Seed germination is improved after a pretreatment of 4 to 6 weeks of cold moist stratification or when planted outside in the fall or early winter. Plants generally will not bloom until their second year.

Dig and divide large clumps in the spring just as the leaves are emerging. Separate the corms or cut the tuberous roots with a sharp knife, keeping at least one eye on each division.

– Susan Mahr, University of Wisconsin – Madison


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Gardening How-to Articles

Lofty Liatris—Drought-Tolerant Beauties for the Summer and Fall Border

By Kim Hawkes | June 1, 2002

Most of us know Liatris via the cut-flower industry. It is yet another North American wildflower that Europeans have selected, hybridized, grown in large scale, and exported back to us for mass consumption. Long, purple floral spikes of Liatris can be found in everything from high-end arrangements to basic supermarket bouquets.

The good news for gardeners is that Liatris is much more than a cut-flower-industry standard. It is, in fact, a group of wonderfully diverse and easy-to-grow perennials that can brighten up the outside of your home just as beautifully as they can the inside.

The genus Liatris belongs to the Asteraceae, or aster family, and is composed of around 40 different species. Common names include gayfeather and blazing star. Most of the species are prairie or grassland natives and have stiff, erect, two- to five-foot stems and grasslike leaves. The flowers (technically “flower heads” composed of multiple florets, or tiny flowers) are generally wispy purple, sometimes white, and they cover the top third of the stems in dense clusters from early summer to late fall, depending on the species.

Liatris spicata (Dense blazing star)

One of the reasons gayfeathers are such popular cut flowers is their unusual mode of blooming. Unlike most plants with a similar inflorescence, they bloom from the top of their flower spikes downward. You can actually cut a good portion off the top of the spike (again about a third) to bring indoors, and the remaining flower heads will continue to open and add color to the garden.

Because of their vertical nature, Liatris species take up minimal space and are suitable for even the smallest garden. They are equally at home in large, established perennial borders, where their thin, tall, airy floral wands create a mesmerizing “pop-up” effect.

Besides getting a visual boost, your garden will also hum delightfully from the various insect pollinators that come to feed on Liatris flowers. Butterflies are particularly attracted to the nectar-rich blossoms. Birds will also pay a visit as they relish the fall-ripening seeds.

Drought tolerance is an especially desirable trait that Liatris species offer. Their water-retentive corms allow them to persist in lean, dry times. And cultivation is very straightforward. Most gayfeathers prefer full sun and well-drained soil of moderate to lean fertility. The majority of the species listed below are hardy from USDA Zones 5 to 9. I have never encountered any insect or disease problems. In fact, I can’t think of a reason not to grow these plants!

Kim’s Picks

Only one Liatris species (L. spicata, or dense blazing star) is readily found in garden centers. Why others tend to get overlooked is a mystery to me, as many are very garden-worthy. Thankfully you can usually find these species at specialty mail-order nurseries (see “Nursery Sources”) or at local botanical gardens.

Liatris aspera (rough gayfeather) grows three to five feet high and bears lovely lavender flowers in late summer and early autumn. Because of its height, place the plant where it can lean into a shrub. The species is native to most eastern, midwestern, and southern states.

Liatris elegans (pinkscale blazing star) produces large, showy lilac-purple bristle-brush flowers with soft white inner petals from late summer to fall. It grows two to four feet high and is native from South Carolina to Florida west to Oklahoma and Texas. Note that it has a pretty narrow hardiness range, from Zones 7 to 9.

Liatris graminifolia (grass-leafed blazing star) is a very compact, one- to two-foot-high plant with soft, two-inch-long, needlelike foliage on reddish-pink stems. It produces a profusion of small, soft lavender to near white flowers in early fall. The plant’s natural range is from New Jersey south to Alabama.

The large purple flower heads on Liatris ligulistylis (meadow blazing star) are a knockout! As many as 70 blossoms grace the three- to four-foot stems of this species in late summer. It can tolerate slightly damp soils in addition to well-drained ones. And it’s indigenous from Wisconsin south to Colorado and New Mexico.

Liatris microcephala (dwarf gayfeather) sends up several one- to two-foot rosy-purple flower spikes from its compact, grassy rosette in midsummer. Because of its diminutive size, it is a great choice for planting among boulders in a sunny rock garden or as an edging in a sunny border. Rare in cultivation, this species occurs naturally in the southern Appalachian Mountains.

Liatris spicata (dense blazing star) sends up three- to four-foot lavender spikes in midsummer. This is another species that can tolerate moist soils. Numerous cultivars are available, including ‘Blue Bird’, with blue-purple flower heads, and ‘Snow Queen’, with white flower heads. It’s native to many eastern and southern states.

Liatris squarrosa (Earl’s blazing star) offers large, tuftlike red-violet flowers on one- to two-foot stems from early to late summer. Whereas most Liatris flower heads blend together, the blossoms on this species are individually distinct, making it a great choice for flower arrangements. It grows wild from Virginia west to Colorado and south to Florida and Texas.

Liatris squarrulosa (southern blazing star) produces bright, rosy-purple, inch-long flower heads on six-foot stems from late summer into fall. It was selected as the 1998 North Carolina Wildflower of the Year by the North Carolina Botanical Gardens. It’s tough as nails, thriving in poor soils, and is native to many midwestern and southern states.

Plant Propagation

If you’re not sure at first which gayfeathers to grow or how many you should buy, start off small and increase your numbers by propagation. There’s nothing to it. Liatris seeds ripen in late summer to early fall, when they can be collected and sown directly outdoors.

The seeds need to be exposed to cool and moist conditions in order to germinate the following spring. To keep track of your plants, collect seeds when they ripen in the garden and sow them in flats. Leave the flats outdoors over the winter, and germination will occur when temperatures and soils begin to warm up.

If you have the patience and the facilities, you can accelerate this process by bringing the seeds indoors after two months of winter temperatures and sowing them in a warm greenhouse. Germination will begin within two to three weeks. Pot up seedlings into three-inch or quart containers and plant them outside after the last frost date in your area.

You can also mix the seeds with slightly moistened sand in a plastic bag and place them in the refrigerator directly after harvesting. Remove after two months and sow them in germination flats in a warm greenhouse. The seeds will germinate quickly. Again, pot up the seedlings and sow them outside after the last frost.

On older plants, the tuberous corms can be dug and divided during late winter while dormant. Softwood cuttings can also be taken in spring. However, propagation from seed is the easiest and most reliable method.

Designing With Liatris

Plant several Liatris species in your garden to ensure a full season of summer and fall blooms. The purple tones of their flowers will complement the flower colors of almost any other plant. Combine Liatris with deep-blood-red daylily cultivars such as Hemerocallis ‘Anzac’ or ‘Ed Murray’, for instance, for a rich, saturated, attention-grabbing duet.

In a casual cottage garden, Liatris species mingle easily with other summer favorites like Rudbeckia and Echinacea species (coneflower), Boltonia asteroides, and Asclepias tuberosa (butterfly weed). For those of you with meadow gardens, this plant of the prairie is a natural.

Gayfeathers provide indispensable vertical pizzazz to the mixed border. My favorite design strategy is to mix them with plants of similar hue. Verbena canadensis ‘Homestead’ combined with Allium sphaerocephalon (drumstick allium) and Liatris make for a stunning purple trio of varied textures.

This monochromatic scheme easily stands alone, or it can be embellished by adding Pennisetum setaceum ‘Rubrum’ and Canna x ‘Bengal Tiger’ (with its bold green and yellow vertically striped leaves) to the rear, and by planting a sweep of Echinacea purpurea ‘Kim’s Knee High’ (compact purple coneflower) in front.

A simpler combination features two North American natives: Rudbeckia fulgida ‘Goldsturm’ (black-eyed susan) and Aster oblongifolius ‘Fanny’s Aster’. The round, bright-gold blossoms of the horizontally spreading black-eyed susan contrast wonderfully with the vertical purple spikes of Liatris spicata. Mix ‘Fanny’s Aster’, Solidago rugosa ‘Fireworks’ (goldenrod), Chrysanthemum x ‘Single Apricot Korean’ (apricot daisy), and Liatris squarrulosa for a glorious grand finale in the fall border.

Liatris is a versatile North American genus with lots of ornamental appeal. Its ease of culture, durability, and long season of bloom make it a must for beginner and experienced gardeners alike. Tuck it here and there it in your garden this year and you’ll be nicely rewarded. Kim Hawks is the owner of Niche Gardens, a nursery in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, specializing in nursery-propagated wildflowers, selected garden perennials, ornamental grasses, and underused trees and shrubs.

Nursery Sources:

Niche Gardens
1111 Dawson Road
Chapel Hill, NC 27516
919-967-0078
www.nichegardens.com Prairie Moon Nursery
Route 3, Box 1633
Winona, MN 55987-9515
507-452-1362
www.prairiemoon.com We-Du Nurseries
Route 5, Box 724
Marion, NC 28752
828-738-8300
Prairie Nursery
P.O. Box 306
Westfield, WI 53964
800-476-9453
www.prairienursery.com

Kim Hawkes is the owner of Niche Gardens, a nursery in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, specializing in nursery-propagated wildflowers, selected garden perennials, ornamental grasses, and underused trees and shrubs.

blazing star

Liatris spicata (blazing star). This Asteraceae is native to eastern North America where its natural habitats are wet depression in prairies and sedge meadows. Lurie Garden’s plant palette contains two blazing stars: L. spicata with red-purple flowers and L. spicata ‘Alba‘ with creamy white flowers.

Blazing star add a strong vertical structure to the garden with a small footprint, with plants often growing to 1.2 m (4 ft) in height and 0.5 m (1.5 ft) wide. Interestingly, finding 1.8 m (6 ft) tall specimens of L. spicata in the wild is not uncommon. Blazing star grows best when planted in free-draining soils and full-sun. Plants grown in rich, heavily fertilized garden soils often become top-heavy during flowering and will require staking. Liatris spicata tolerates drought, clay soils, and summer heat and humidity.

Blazing star can be slow to establish in the garden, but the wait is well rewarded with tall spires of red-purple (L. spicata) or creamy white (L. spicata ‘Alba’) flowers borne from clumping tufts of grass-like leaves. The flowers of blazing star attract a myriad of insects and pollinators–butterflies, hummingbirds, native bees, bumblebees, and honeybees. In the late fall and winter, birds feast on the seed of L. spicata.

Liatris spicata can be distinguished from Liatris pycnostachya (prairie blazing star) by the fact that the tiny leaflets (bracts) surrounding the base of the flower buds lie smooth along the bud rather than curve off of it as in L. pycnostachya.

Botanical Name Liatris spicata
Common Name blazing star
Family Asteraceae
USDA Zone 3 thru 8
Light Requirement Full Sun
Season(s) of interest summer, fall, winter
Height and Spread 2-4ft x 0.75-1.5ft (60-120cm x 22-45cm)
Flower Color Purple-Pink
Attracts Wildlife Provides Food for Birds, Hosts Caterpillars of Butterflies/Moths, Attracts Pollinators,
Additional Information Native to Chicago Region.
Location in Lurie Garden Southwest Light Plate, Southeast Light Plate, Northeast Light Plate, Northwest Light Plate

Liatris spicata Garden Plant Growing Guide

Guide to Growing Blazing Star Plant (Button snakewort, Dense blazing star, Prairie gay feather)

Liatris spicata is an herbaceous perennial that is commonly referred to as Dense Blazing Star or Button Snakewort. Plants are native to the prairies, marsh regions, and meadows of North America.

The Liatris genus contains 37 members, other well known species include Liatris aspera (Rough blazing star) and Liatris pycnostachya (Prairie Blazing Star).

As a member of the 23,000 strong Asteraceae / Composita family it is closely related to species belonging to genera such as Ammobium, Crepis, Helichrysum, Tanacetum, and Ursinia.


Liatris spicata by Drew Avery.

Liatris spicata is a medium-tall plant, with showy spikes of purple flowers, that looks great as part of a border.

It is often grown for its deer-resistant properties, and to attract butterflies and hummingbirds to the garden.

In addition to borders, it also looks great as part of a Prairie / Meadow wild-life landscape, and makes a great fresh or dried cut flower. Cultivars are available with pink and white flowers.

Liatris spicata Description

Blazing Star is a fairly tall plant, reaching about 36 to 48 inches (90–120 cm) in height. It has a spread of 10 to 20 inches (25–50 cm).

It is upright and clump-forming. One or more stalks may arise from the tufted base. Smaller cultivars are available that reach heights of 18 to 24 inches (45–60 cm).

Leaves are linear and grass-like, and can reach lengths of 12 inches (30 cm) at the base, getting smaller further up the stalk. The leaves are green from spring to autumn.


Dense Blazing Star by Patrick Standish.

Liatris spicata has long-lasting blooms from summer to the start of fall / autumn. Purple flowers appear on terminal spikes and open from the top downwards.


White Blazing Star plant cultivar ‘Floristan Weiss’ by Gail Frederick.

The flower-heads are tightly set, and have a tufted, feather-like appearance: this give the plant one of its common names – Prairie gay feather.

Liatris Blazing Star Plant Video Growing Guide

The following Liatris spicata Blazing Star Plant Genus video provides fantastic advice on growing and caring for these beautiful garden plants.

Liatris spicata Growing and Care Guide

  • Seeds are easiest sown in the autumn as they require cold to germinate. Spring sown seeds should first be nicked with a knife to scarify, and stratified at 40°F (4°C) for about six to ten weeks before sowing. Simply cover seeds once sown. It usually takes three to four weeks to germinate.
  • Space at about 12 to 18 (30–45 cm). It usually takes a couple of years for plant to fill out to their full spread.
  • Plants should be located in a sunny part of the garden that has a moist well-drained soil. They do not tolerate standing water or soggy soils. Good drainage is essential for surviving the winter. The soil can be light to average, but will perform best in a fertile slightly acidic soil.
  • Although Liatris thrive in a moist soil, they are fairly drought-tolerant (though may develop droopiness). Supply an adequate amount of water to keep soil moist, but do not soak Blazing Star plants.
  • Stake plants to prevent stem breakage: smaller cultivars such as Liatris spicata Kobold and the white flowered Floristan Weiss do not require staking.
  • Can be propagated by division of tuberous roots in the spring.
  • Deadhead before seed-set to prevent volunteer seedlings, or let seeds develop to attract finches.
  • Cut back to the ground in the winter.
  • If you plan to take cut flowers from Liatris spicata then harvest the flower spikes when around 50–60% have opened. Strip the stems of leaves and then hang upside-down for three weeks in a dry dark place that has excellent air-circulation. For best flower color retention dry in sand or silica-gel.
  • Liatris spicata is not usually susceptible to pests and diseases, gray mold and verticillium wilt are possible, and rabbits may eat leaves.

Liatris

Dense blazing star (Liatris spicata). Photo by Beverly Turner; Jackson Minnesota; Bugwood.org

Liatris is a wow-worthy perennial that is tough and beautiful at the same time. Liatris has many names and is also known as blazing star, gayfeather, or colic root. Loved by butterflies, bees, and many gardeners, this plant grows tall and slender and produces upright purple flowers in the fall. As an added bonus, these eye-catching flowers hold up well when cut and enjoyed in a vase.

Liatris (Liatris spp.) is a member of the Asteraceae family and is natively found growing across the United States in scrubs, sandhills, flatwoods, and upland pines. These tough conditions have enabled liatris to endure drought and other hardships once established.

Characteristics

Liatris has grass-like leaves that are green through the summer, shifting to a rich bronze color with the changing season and color palette of fall. It’s also in fall that liatris produces upright flower stems topped by bottlebrush-like purple (and sometimes white) flowers. These flowers spikes can grow to be five feet tall and add drama and color to your landscape.

There are at least 13 species of liatris and several hybrids that can be grown in zones 8 to 10B, so finding the right liatris for your landscape shouldn’t be a problem. Some liatris have more compact growth habits, while others have strong stems that make them hold up especially well when cut for display in vases. You can also find liatris with blooms in various shades of purple and even white.

Planting and Care

Because of its tall and slender growth habit, liatris does best when planted in a mass for a truly stunning display. You can either buy potted plants to put into your landscape, or you can sow seeds directly into the soil. Liatris can be planted in spring once the possibility of frost has passed; containerized plants can also be planted in the summer and fall.

Liatris will grow best when planted in full sun and well-drained soils. While not ideal, liatris can grow in shade and poorer soils, but will be short-lived. Plants should be spaced 12 to 15 inches apart.

Regular watering will help your liatris establish a strong root system. While water is important during the growing season, don’t overwater your plants as they can rot if the soil is too moist. Once your liatris is established, it will be fairly drought tolerant.

Liatris doesn’t have any major pest problems, but it is sometimes plagued by leaf spots, rusts, powdery mildew, white mold, and Verticillium wilt. Proper plant spacing will help prevent these problems by allowing for sufficient air circulation and sunlight to reach your plant.

A field of liatris. Photo by Alex Katovich; Bugwood.org

UF/IFAS Sites

  • Fact Sheet: Liatris
  • Florida Wildflowers: Blazing Star

Also on Gardening Solutions

  • Native Plants
  • Wildflowers in the Garden


Liatris spicata

Kansas gay feather or button snakewort

  • Position: full sun
  • Soil: moist but well-drained soil
  • Flowering period: July to August
  • Height: 60-80cm
  • Foliage: deciduous
  • Hardiness: fully hardy

Varieties

Liatris spicata. Long-lived, undemanding plant with purplish-pink, bottle-like flower spikes which flower in late summer. These erect flower spikes open from the top down. With a height of 70cm Liatris spicata will add height and interest to a summer border. Liatris spicata ‘Kobold’ has the same stiff purple spikes but with a height of 45cm. If you want to add a cooler colour choose the white-flowering Liatris spicata ‘Alba’

Butterfly plant

Liatris spicata is also a fantastic plant for wildlife. Butterflies and bees love all sorts of Liatris spicata.

Pruning

Pruning Liatris spicata (button snakewort). Cut the faded flowers spikes back to the base of the plant in September. Or leave the spikes to provide winter structure.

Plant combination

Liatris spicata looks fabulous on its own or combined with other plants such as agastache, echinacea, helenium and phlox. You can also add ornamental grasses.


Molinia caerulea ‘Variegata’ Festuca glauca Stipa tenuissima

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