Garden designers often recommend planting a combination of plants for the most pleasing effect in the garden. They suggest, for example, combining rounded plant forms, such as catmint or daylily with upright, vertical growers. One such plant is blazing star, also known as Gayfeather (Liatris). Hardier than delphiniums or foxglove, blazing star is a low-maintenance choice for vertical height in the perennial garden. This plant, native to the eastern and southern U.S. produces pink or purple fuzzy spikes of flowers atop grass-like leaves. The flower spikes range from 2 to 5 feet high.
Blazing star is hardy in USDA plant hardiness zones 4 through 9. Historically, the plant was sometimes called colic root, because it was used by Native Americans and early settlers to relieve indigestion. It looks best in a casual perennial bed. Combine it with other tough perennials and annuals, such as daylilies, black-eyed Susans, coreopsis, lamb’s ear and Echinacea. Another advantage of Blazing Star is its bloom time. Blazing star blooms from mid-summer to fall, when many other perennials are fading.
- Growing Conditions for Blazing Star Flowers
- Pests and Diseases
- Gardening How-to Articles
- Lofty Liatris—Drought-Tolerant Beauties for the Summer and Fall Border
- Kim’s Picks
- Plant Propagation
- Designing With Liatris
- Nursery Sources:
- Simple Steps for Growing Liatris Spicata
- Blazing Star – Facts and General Description
- Growing Liatris Spicata from seed
- Growing Blazing Star from corms/bulbs
- Blazing Star / Liatris Growing Requirements
- Harvesting Liatris Seeds
- Gardening uses for Blazing Star
- Liatris Spicata / Blazing Star Reference Table
- Blazing Star
- Blazing Star
- Colorful Combinations
- Blazing Star Care Must-Knows
- New Innovations
- More Varieties of Blazing Star
- Plant Blazing Star With:
Growing Conditions for Blazing Star Flowers
Blazing star is an easy perennial to grow, but it must have full sun. In shade, it doesn’t bloom well and it is more susceptible to disease. Give it well-drained, light soil. It’s not particular about pH level, as long as the soil drains well. Blazing Star grows from corms or tuberous roots and it doesn’t tolerate wet feet.
Sow Blazing Star from seed in the fall in warm climates or in early spring. They need 45 days to germinate and grow best when exposed to cold for 2 to 3 months prior to warm weather. Plants grown from seed will not bloom the first year. Keep the soil moist to the touch. Alternatively, you can plant potted nursery plants in late spring. Plant Blazing Star 2 to 3 feet apart. The plant spreads slowly, but eventually becomes 3 to 5 feet wide. One plant is usually enough for most garden spaces. Blazing Star self-sows and also spreads through underground roots. Divide it every 2 to 3 years as growth slows and the plant becomes crowded.
Blazing Star prefers slightly moist to dry conditions. In moist soils, it grows more quickly and blooms more prolifically. However, once established it tolerates drought conditions, along with poor soil. Fertilize Blazing Star in the spring if growth is slow. In rich soils, it may not need any fertilizer at all. Fertilize it with an all-purpose fertilizer, according to package directions.
Pests and Diseases
Blazing Star, like many native plants, is resistant to deer. This doesn’t necessarily guarantee that deer won’t eat it, but it certainly increases the odds that they’ll leave it alone. If deer are a problem, plant it with other deer-resistant perennials, such as Shasta daisy, purple coneflower or Russian sage.
Blazing Star is generally trouble-free, but it does have a few potential pests. In hot, humid conditions, you may notice leaf spot or rust. Leaf spot, as the name implies, causes blackened, brown or yellow spots on the leaves. Rust causes orange or red spots, which spread. Another common problem is powdery mildew, which causes a white film to form on the leaves.
To prevent these diseases, plant Blazing Star at least 12 inches apart so air circulates freely. Divide the plant when it becomes crowded. Water with soaker hoses or drip systems instead of overhead sprinklers. Don’t work in the garden while it’s wet because wet leaves spread disease. Rake up and discard any diseased leaves and cut the plant back in the fall so diseases don’t overwinter. If diseases are severe, spray with a fungicide labeled to treat the specific problem.
Blazing Star comes in several varieties. Spike Gayfeather (Liatris spicata) is typically smaller than other cultivars, growing to about 2 to 3 feet high. ‘Kobold’ is another compact variety, growing only 18 inches high. ‘Floristan Violett’ has strong stems and deep purple flowers. It is often used by florists in floral arrangements. ‘Alba’ is an unusual variety with flower plumes of pure white.
Check out the following resources for more information:
Landscape Plants Rated by Deer Resistance from Rutgers New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station
Gayfeather from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln
When she’s not writing about gardening, food and canning, Julie Christensen enjoys spending time in her gardens, which includes perennials, vegetables and fruit trees. She’s written hundreds of gardening articles for the Gardening Channel, Garden Guides and San Francisco Gate, as well as several e-books.
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!
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.
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.
1111 Dawson Road
Chapel Hill, NC 27516
www.nichegardens.com Prairie Moon Nursery
Route 3, Box 1633
Winona, MN 55987-9515
www.prairiemoon.com We-Du Nurseries
Route 5, Box 724
Marion, NC 28752
P.O. Box 306
Westfield, WI 53964
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.
Simple Steps for Growing Liatris Spicata
Blazing Star is very easy to grow and care for in your garden if you place it where it likes to be. Liatris Spicata is a native perennial that happens to be very drought tolerant. Some varieties of Liatris have roots that can reach 10 feet deep (~3m), and Liatris Spicata is very similar. The main consideration here is that it needs well drained soil. But in a nutshell, Blazing Star will grow well and require almost no care if you meet the following conditions:
- Grow Blazing Star in full sun, at least 6 hours per day for the showiest flowers. But it will grow in partial sun (3-6 hrs/day). But won’t get as showy/tall/full.
- Liatris needs well drained soil, as the roots will rot in swampy/boggy soil
- This plant may require watering during extreme drought. If leaf edges start to get brown/crispy, then it needs water.
- Older plants may need to be divided to keep them looking showy
- It will grow well in zones 4-9, check your garden zone here
- Space plants 12-18″ apart (30-50 cm), so you can pack them in tight initially
- If growing from corms (easiest method), plant them about 3″ deep (8 cm)
- If grown from seed, Blazing Star will bloom the second year
- Stalks will reach heights of 4′ (1.3m) in ideal conditions, and the grassy base will reach around 2-3′
But don’t forget to check out our reference table on Blazing Star at the end of this article!
Blazing Star – Facts and General Description
Blazing Star, Liatris Spicata is a tall native perennial flower with large purple spike blooms. As it is adapted for prairie, this plant is very hardy, beautiful, and a favorite of hummingbirds, butterflies, and other pollinators. This plant can tolerate a wide variety of soils and conditions. Having long lasting blooms that will show for a month make Liatris Spicata gorgeous when planted en mass. I have multiple specimens in our micro-prairie in our backyard.
Side note* You don’t need a huge area to start a micro prairie….and it is really helpful to your local pollinator population.
See how to start your own micro-prairie here ==>>https://growitbuildit.com/how-to-make-a-micro-prairie/
How tall/big does Blazing Star grow?
Blazing star will look like a clump of ornamental grass with 1-5 (typically) stalks shooting up. The base, grass part will be 6″ diameter for 1st/2nd year plants, and will be up to 2′ (50-75 cm) for older, mature plants after approximately 4 or 5 years. In ideal conditions of full sun/well drained soil, the purple flowering stalks of Blazing Star should get 3-4′ (1-1.3m) tall.
Save it for later – Pin It!
Growing Liatris Spicata from seed
This plant is fairly easy to grow form seed. It does require cold/moist stratification to obtain a high germination rate. In fact studies have shown, stratifying the seed for 10 weeks (or just winter sow it in December) increased germination rates from 50% to 98%! But other than that, it is just a kind of ‘sow and go’ plant. You can plant these seeds on the surface of the soil, up to 1/8” (3 mm) depth – but no more. Typically I winter sow Liatris Spicata in pots, with a heavy dose of seed (at least 5 per cell). I also always leave just a couple of seeds on the surface, pressed in to the soil. Then I will thin as needed, or transplant baby seedlings into other pots to get more plants.
Also, if you don’t get all of your Liatris Spicata seedlings planted out to the garden during the year, but they have been growing in pots that are at least 4” (100 mm) diameter or square, you can sometimes over-winter them. I did this on about a dozen plants, and all the corms germinated the following Spring.
So once they go dormant, you can store them outside, say against a south facing wall of your house and just plant the corm/bulb next year. This is a very effective method of propagation, and when you do a corm – you should get blooms that year for sure. Doing so is basically a form of cold storage, which has been shown to be beneficial for flowering the next season.
And here is a picture of what a Liatris seedling looks like
Liatris Spicata SeedlingLiatris Spicata shoots just beginning to come out of dormancy in early spring.Liatris Spicata / Blazing Star emerging from dormancy in Spring
After it is done blooming, if you want some free seed, it is quite easy obtain. Just cut a stalk off once it is brown/dry, and kind of strip the seeds off. If I get time, I’ll post some pictures of me doing it or a video. – see further down the article for a video on HOW TO SAVE Liatris Seeds.
Liatris Spicata just starting to bloom!
Zoomed in view of Emerging Bloom Stalk
Growing Blazing Star from corms/bulbs
Recently garden centers and big box stores have begun offering Liatris corms along with their other bulbs. This is likely the easiest way to get nice sized Liatris for the least amount of money the first year (unless you have a friend who has some that are ready for division).
Blazing Star / Liatris Growing Requirements
I have found this plant to be hardy. As any plant that survives on the prairie tends to be quite tough and adapted for most of North America. My Liatris Spicata / Blazing Star have done great in clay soil, with minimal maintenance. Actually – no maintenance. I don’t even water them much during drought. I’ve found references stating that roots of other Liatris can go 10’ (3 m) deep, so that might explain why it is so drought tolerant.
So far I haven’t seen any disease on my plants, and I’ve grown them for several years. So far the only risk I have found is rabbits. For example rabbits will eat these plants when they are young/small. I’ve woken up in the morning to a bunch of stubs, where yesterday I had healthy Liatris Spicata seedlings. So you should apply liquid fence or some other rabbit repellent that can help keep them big and healthy until the Liatris Spicata blooms.
This is a wonderful plant that you absolutely should grow. For instance, just getting to see all the birds pick seed off is worth growing 5-10 specimens. As far as how many you should plant – I say the more the merrier since their spacing is so small. In our front bed I have 15 plants in a densely packed circle. This makes a magnificent display when they are all blooming. Also, this plant blooms top to bottom, and because the stalk tends to be quite long, your bloom time is long too! For instance, last year I think the Liatris bloomed for about 2 months.
Does Blazing Star need to be fertilized?
Blazing Star generally does not need fertilizer. I’ve never fertilized Blazing Star after establishment. As you can see with the pictures throughout this page, it seems to be healthy and happy. Also, I don’t have beautiful, loamy, crumbly black soil. These are all planted in clay with plenty of rock. Since the roots go so deep into the soil, this plant can tap into nutrients and minerals that most plants can never reach.
SEE OTHER NATIVE PLANT ARTICLES HERE ==> https://growitbuildit.com/category/native-plants-info-facts-articles/
Does Blazing Star need to be divided? And when?
Blazing stars will keep growing larger each year, until the plant reaches a couple feet in diameter ( approximately 1.5 m). Once this happens, the center of the plant may be a ‘dead zone’ where no stalks will shoot up. If you notice your plants are doing this during emergence in Spring, then it probably should be divided to keep the plant looking full, showy, and healthy. This needs to be done just as the leaves are emerging. Alternatively, it can be done in the fall after the plant is dormant. So, dig up the root ball / corm, and then separate it with a pitchfork, or break it up and cut it with a gardeners knife. I’ve used old hunting knives for this too, as I have those readily available. Then just replant one half, or one section where the plant was. Then you can share the other pieces with friends or neighbors, or just plant the corm somewhere else in your garden/yard.
Can Liatris Grow in Pots or Containers?
Yes, Liatris Spicata can be grown in pots/containers. You should use larger/deep containers to get taller more healthy plants. Preferably 12″ deep, however if you grow from seed then it is low cost to experiment. The first year I grew Liatris Spicata from seed, I actually left about 10 plants in shallow 4″ pots over winter in Pennsylvania – all of the plants (now full corms) survived. The main consideration you should have is that the soil is well draining. Wet or soggy roots will likely harm or kill the plant.
Harvesting Liatris Seeds
Liatris Spicata, Blazing Star – Ready for Seed Harvest!
You can gather Liatris Seeds in the fall, or in the spring. We’ve got a great article detailing the process here==>
How to Save Liatris Seeds – An Illustrated Guide with Pictures
If you enjoyed this reference article, check out some of our other native plant files. Also, don’t forget to sign up for our email newsletter.
Gardening uses for Blazing Star
Common uses for Blazing Star / Liatris Spicata include
- Border perennial garden
- Rear of flower bed
- Center Focal Point of Flower Bed
This plant mixes well with many other perennials. Although it slowly increases in diameter, the purple stalks generally remain upright. I’ve had Echinacea and New England Aster flop over from heavy storms while my Liatris stood tall. That being said, if you want a smaller flower bed, then I would place this halfway from front to back. My reason for this is that the isolated upright stalks always allow for viewing to the back, even when there are many Blazing Star plants. Conversely, interspersed throughout a meadow works well too, as this plant isn’t likely to flop over onto anything else. And while the base may increase in size year over year, it doesn’t ‘branch out’ and steal sunlight from others.
When designing your garden, adding some depth to Blazing Star helps create a more stunning display. So while a row of plants looks nice, I’m partial to having a colony or forest of the fuzzy purple stalks. I’ve planted 15 plants in a circle of about 6′ diameter. If you don’t have much space, just having five or six plants in a circle with one in the center can lead to stunning displays. Think of it like this, a single tree in a field can be interesting to look at, but it doesn’t compare to seeing a whole forest. Having more plants will also bring in more beneficial insects and birds to eat the seeds.
Before I forget, hummingbirds love the nectar from this plant. So having more will increase the frequency of hummingbirds to your garden!
Before you go;
Check out our other native plant articles for more good ideas for your garden. Follow us on Pinterest & Instagram. And don’t forget to sign up for our newsletter, and see the reference table at the bottom of the page!
SUBSCRIBE TO OUR NEWSLETTER:
Please take a moment & SUBSCRIBE TO OUR YOUTUBE CHANNEL HERE:
GROWIT BUILDIT YOUTUBE CHANNEL
LOOKING TO PUT IN A NEW GARDEN BED? Be sure to read these 1st!!
REASONS NOT TO BUILD RAISED BED GARDENS
EASIEST METHOD TO REMOVE SOD BY HAND
HOW TO COMPOST THE EASY WAY
NATIVE PLANT FACT SHEETS
How to Control Wild Onions in Your Yard
How to Save and Store Flower Seeds
Native Plants – Why and How They Help the Environment
Liatris Spicata / Blazing Star Reference Table
|Common Name||Blazing Star|
|Scientific name||Liatris Spicata|
|USDA Garden Zone||3-10|
|Bloom Time||June – August|
|Bloom Duration||6 Weeks|
|Bloom Size||A stalk ranging from 6-12” (15-30cm)|
|Characteristics||One or more stalks rising from a grass like clump|
|Soil Types||Clay / Loam|
|Moisture||Moist – Medium|
|Typical Use||Flower bed/garden, Rain Garden, woodland border, meadow|
|Fauna Associations||Hummingbirds, butterflies, bees. Rabbits will eat the foliage.|
|Sowing Depth||Surface to 1/8” (0-3 mm)|
|Stratification||60 days cold moist stratification|
|Native Range||United States – East of Mississippi River|
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 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.
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.
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.
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
These native prairie plants add beautiful spikes of color to any dry and sunny garden space. Blazing star also has an interesting blooming habit, as it blooms from the top down on the flower stalk rather than from the bottom up. This makes it a great choice for cut flowers, and it is much loved by florists. In the garden, blazing star is a favorite nectar crop for monarchs and many other butterflies and hummingbirds. Once the blooms are done, it makes a great snack for finches, too. Unfortunately, blazing star is also a favorite snack for bunnies and deer, so plan accordingly.
Thanks to their glowing orchid purple/pink blooms, blazing stars make wonderful garden plants that mingle well with other plants. Their fairly unassuming foliage of fine green leaves looks almost grass-like and blends into the landscape well. Once blooming begins, tall spires of color sway in the garden and are constantly abuzz with pollinators. At peak bloom, blazing stars are a favorite for butterflies. Because of the many different species available, you can also get a long bloom time from the flowers.
Blazing Star Care Must-Knows
Blazing stars are true prairie plants. To thrive, they need similar conditions. Plant blazing stars in tough soil conditions with good drainage. One of the main causes of death in blazing stars is winter wet, so make sure they never sit in water in cold weather. These plants grow by way of small corms, a modified storage root like a bulb, which are susceptible to rot. Avoid overly rich, fertile soils, as they can encourage lush, soft growth prone to flopping. These plants are already quite tall, and grow best on fairly lean soils.
Like many other prairie plants, blazing stars need full sun. They are also extremely tolerant of heat and drought, and can make it through some of the toughest summers. Planting blazing stars in full sun will ensure that the plants put on a good show of flowers, and will keep them as compact as possible. Taller species will need competition and neighbors to lean on to prevent flopping.
Many species of blazing star have seen an increase in popularity over the years because of the pollinator movement, which encourages gardeners to plant natives and other plants that act as a nectar source for pollinators. A few varieties offer dwarf habits for smaller spaces and reduce the risk of flopping.
More Varieties of Blazing Star
‘Floristan White’ blazing star
Liatris spicata ‘Floristan White’ may reach 3 feet tall. Its leafy stems carry long spikes of creamy white flower heads at their tips. Zones 4-9
‘Kobold’ blazing star
Liatris spicata ‘Kobold’ is one of the best varieties for cutting. Its robust spikes of bright purple flowers appear in early summer. It grows about 2 feet tall. Zones 4-9
Plant Blazing Star With:
Easy, always fresh, and always eye-catching, Shasta daisy is a longtime favorite. All cultivars produce white daisy flowers in various degrees of doubleness and size. The sturdy stems and long vase life make the flowers unbeatable for cutting. Shasta daisy thrives in well-drained, not overly rich soil. Taller varieties may need staking.
Long-blooming helenium lights up the late-season garden with showy daisy flowers in brilliant yellows, browns, and mahogany, centered with prominent yellow or brown discs. Many of the best cultivars are hybrids. All are excellent for cutting. Deadhead to extend bloom time, and divide the clumps every couple of years to ensure vigor.
Grow artemisias for the magnificent silver foliage that complements nearly all other perennials and ties together diverse colors within the garden. They’re nothing short of stunning next to white or blue flowers. They thrive in hot, dry, sunny conditions, such as a south-facing slope. A number spread rapidly to the point of being aggressive, so consider limiting to varieties that are well-behaved.