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Liatris (Blazing Star)

Native to North American prairies, Liatris is a striking drought-tolerant perennial that attracts butterflies and resists deer

Blazing Star, Gayfeather, Liatris, Butterflies

What is Liatris?

Liatris, known as blazing star, features striking vertical spikes of purple, pink, or white flowers that bloom uniquely top-down. Native to North American prairies, this drought-tolerant perennial attracts butterflies and resists deer, enhancing gardens with its resilient and eye-catching presence from late summer into fall.

Native: These plants are indigenous to a variety of North American habitats, including meadows, prairies, and open woodlands. Their presence across different regions has led to the development of numerous species, each adapted to its specific ecosystem.

Liatris belongs to the Asteraceae family, the same family as daisies and sunflowers. With over 32 species within the genus, these plants exhibit diversity in size, habitat preference, and flowering habits, but all share the characteristic flower spike.

Description: Liatris species are herbaceous perennials, meaning they live for more than two years and have a non-woody stem that dies back at the end of the growing season, only to regrow from their rootstock each spring. They boast upright spikes laden with fluffy, brush-like flowers. Their linear growth pattern and tufted flower heads make them unique among prairie plants, offering a textural counterpoint to other perennials.

Growth Habit: These plants typically have a clump-forming habit, with narrow leaves cladding the stems. The foliage grows densely at the base, with the flowers arranged along the erect stem, often giving the appearance of a feathered spike. Depending on the species, the plants arise from a corm, rhizome or elongated root crown.

Size: The size of Liatris plants can vary significantly by species, ranging from 1 to 5 feet in height (30-150 cm). Their slender form and vertical lines allow them to fit well even in small gardens.

Flowers: The standout feature of Liatris is its flowers. These are usually purple, pink, or white and form dense, spike-like heads that open from the top down – a rarity in the flowering world.

Blooming Season: Flowering occurs from mid to late summer into fall, providing a late-season nectar source for pollinators and a splash of color when many other perennials are starting to fade.

Liatris spicata, Blazing Star, Gayfeather
Liatris spicata (Blazing Star)

Fruit: The fruit of Liatris is a small, dry, one-seeded achene. While not particularly ornamental, it is an important food source for wildlife.

Foliage: The foliage of Liatris is typically narrow and grass-like, sometimes with a slightly bluish tinge. The leaves may remain attractive long after the blooming season, offering continued visual interest.

Hardiness: Most Liatris species are hardy in USDA zones 3-9, demonstrating good cold tolerance and the ability to withstand winter conditions in these regions.

Uses: Liatris is favored for ornamental gardens, native plantings, and prairies. It is also popular in cut flower arrangements, both fresh and dried.

Pollinators: These plants are magnets for bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds

Toxicity: Liatris is not known to be toxic to humans or pets, making it a safe choice for gardens frequented by children and animals.

Deer and Rabbit: Deer tend to avoid Liatris, likely due to its coarse texture and less palatable foliage.

Drought: Once established, Liatris is incredibly drought-tolerant, often thriving in dry conditions where other plants might struggle.

Invasiveness: Liatris is not considered invasive; it stays where planted and does not aggressively spread, making it a responsible choice for ecologically-minded gardeners.

Guide Information

Hardiness 3 - 9
Plant Type Perennials
Plant Family Compositae
Genus Liatris
Exposure Full Sun
Season of Interest Summer (Mid, Late)
Fall
Height 1' - 5'
(30cm - 150cm)
Spread 6" - 2'
(15cm - 60cm)
Maintenance Low
Water Needs Low, Average
Soil Type Clay, Loam, Sand, Chalk
Soil pH Acid, Neutral, Alkaline
Soil Drainage Well-Drained, Moist but Well-Drained
Characteristics Showy, Cut Flowers
Native Plants United States, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, Rocky Mountains, Southeast, Pacific Northwest, Midwest, Southwest, Northeast, Minnesota, South Dakota, Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, Missouri, Kansas, Wisconsin, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, Indiana, Washington, Tennessee, South Carolina, Virginia, Alabama, West Virginia, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Kentucky, New Mexico, Wyoming, Colorado, Montana
Tolerance Deer, Drought
Attracts Bees, Butterflies, Hummingbirds, Birds
Landscaping Ideas Beds And Borders
Garden Styles City and Courtyard, Informal and Cottage, Prairie and Meadow
Liatris spicata (Blazing Star)
Liatris aspera (Rough Blazing Star)
Liatris pycnostachya (Prairie Blazing Star)

Why Should I Grow Liatris?

Liatris is an ideal choice for gardeners seeking to create a dynamic and wildlife-friendly garden. These hardy perennials are known for their tall, spikey blooms that add vertical interest to any planting scheme. The vivid purple, pink, or white flowers of Liatris are not only visually striking but also serve as a crucial nectar source for a wide range of pollinators, including bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds.

With a preference for full sun and well-drained soil, Liatris is drought-tolerant once established, making it a perfect fit for xeriscaping or low-water gardens.

Its bloom time in late summer to fall is particularly valuable as it provides color and sustenance to wildlife when many other plants are fading.

Moreover, Liatris is largely resistant to deer browsing, ensuring your garden remains beautiful and intact throughout the growing season.

Another compelling reason to grow Liatris is its minimal care requirements. It does not require frequent watering or fertilizing, and deadheading is unnecessary unless for aesthetic purposes.

All these qualities make Liatris a superb choice for gardeners looking for maximum impact with minimal effort.

monarch butterfly, spicebush swallowtail butterfly, papilio troilus, liatris aspera, blazing star

Monarch butterfly and spicebush swallowtail butterfly on liatris aspera (Rough Blazing Star)

Liatris: A Magnet for Pollinators

Liatris is a magnet for pollinators. The following bees and butterflies are frequent visitors to Liatris flowers:

Honeybee, Honeybees Honey Bee (Apis mellifera)

  • Best known for producing honey.
  • Lives in large colonies and have a complex social structure.
  • Non-native to the Americas; brought over from Europe.
Bumblebee, Bumblebees Bumblebee (Bombus spp.)

  • Larger and furrier than many other bees.
  • Lives in smaller colonies than honey bees.
  • Known for its ability to buzz-pollinate.
Carpenter Bee, Carpenter BeeS Carpenter Bee (Xylocopa spp.)

  • A large bee that bores into the wood to lay its eggs.
  • It does not live in colonies; each female bee tends to her offspring.
  • Mostly harmless, rarely sting.
mason bee, mason beeS Mason Bee (Osmia spp.)

  • A solitary bee that lays eggs in small crevices, sealing them with mud.
  • Highly efficient pollinator.
  • Does not produce honey.
leafcutter bee, leafcutter bees Leafcutter Bee (Megachile spp.)

  • Cuts circles out of leaves to build their nests.
  • A solitary bee, not aggressive.
sweat bee, sweat bees Sweat Bee (Halictidae family)

  • A small bee that is often attracted to human sweat.
  • Some species are solitary, while others live in small colonies.
Black Swallowtail Butterfly

Black Swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes) 

  • It has distinct yellow-starred, black wings and caterpillars that feed on parsley and dill
  • Widespread across North America, often seen in gardens and meadows.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, Papilio glaucus

Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus)

Monarch butterfly

Monarch (Danaus plexippus)

  • Famous for its long migration
  • Distinctive orange and black wings
  • Depends on milkweed plants for reproduction and caterpillar food source.

Butterfly Painted Lady, Vanessa cardui

Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui)

  • Widely distributed in the world
  • Known for its exceptional migration
  • Caterpillars feed on various host plants, including thistles and mallows.
The chequered skipper, Carterocephalus palaemon

Skippers 

  • Large butterfly family (over 3,500 species worldwide)
  • Distinguished by their rapid, erratic flight patterns.
  • Skippers are vital in pollination, particularly for certain types of flowers.

Hoverfly, Syrphid Fly

Hoverfly or Syrphid Fly

  • Excellent pollinator, mimicking bees in appearance and behavior.
  • Larvae often consume aphids, making them beneficial for natural pest control.

Other beneficial insects, such as moths, are also attracted to Liatris flowers for their nectar. This high nectar production makes Liatris an excellent choice for butterfly gardens and naturalized areas that support pollinators.

Liatris spicata ‘Alba’ (Gayfeather)
Liatris spicata ‘Kobold’ (Blazing Star)
Liatris spicata ‘Floristan Violet’ (Blazing Star)

Popular Liatries Species

Liatris has several popular species, each with unique characteristics. Here are some of the most well-known:

Liatris spicata (Dense Blazing Star): Perhaps the most common species, it features dense spikes of purple flowers. Cultivars include ‘Kobold‘ (compact size) and ‘Floristan White‘ (white blooms).

Liatris pycnostachya (Prairie Blazing Star): Known for its tall, feathery plumes of magenta flowers, it’s a wildflower prairie staple.

Liatris aspera (Rough Blazing Star): This species has a more open flower spike and thrives in dry, rocky soil. The flowers are typically deep pink to purple.

Liatris ligulistylis (Rocky Mountain Blazing Star): Particularly attractive to monarch butterflies, it boasts fluffy, rose-purple flower spikes.

Liatris microcephala (Dwarf Blazing Star): A shorter variety with small, rounded flower heads and narrow leaves, suitable for rock gardens.

Liatris punctata (Dotted Blazing Star): A durable perennial with narrow leaves and tall spikes of deep purple flowers. It thrives in dry conditions, making it perfect for xeriscaping and attracting pollinators like butterflies and bees.

Each Liatris variety brings its own charm to the garden and supports a host of pollinators, making any choice a valuable addition to a biodiversity-focused garden.

Liatris ligulistylis (Rocky Mountain Blazing Star)
Liatris punctata var. mucronata (Texas Blazing Star)
Liatris cylindracea (Dwarf Blazing Star)

Garden Design with Liatris

Landscaping with Liatris can add striking vertical elements and vibrant color to gardens, and it’s particularly effective in attracting wildlife. Here’s how to integrate Liatris into your landscaping:

Mixed Borders: Liatris is ideal for mixed perennial borders. Its spiky texture contrasts well with rounded or mounding plants like echinacea or black-eyed Susans

Wildlife Gardens: Being a native wildflower, it’s excellent for wildlife or naturalistic gardens. The nectar-rich flowers attract pollinators such as bees and butterflies, including the monarch butterfly. Planting Liatris in groups increases visibility for wildlife.

Cottage Gardens: Liatris fits well in the relaxed style of cottage gardens, mingling with a variety of shapes, colors, and fragrances. It adds height and structure without dominating smaller plants.

Rock Gardens: The smaller varieties of Liatris are well-suited to rock gardens. Their tolerance for drought and preference for well-drained soils makes them a good choice for these settings.

Meadows and Prairie Plantings: In larger landscapes, Liatris is perfect for meadow-style planting, offering a natural and maintenance-free garden option.

Mass Plantings: For dramatic impact, use Liatris in swathes or drifts that flow through a border or over a hillside, which can also mimic their natural prairie habitat.

Formal Landscaping: In more formal settings, Liatris can be used as punctuation marks in garden beds or along pathways, where their upright form can be appreciated.

Cut Flower Gardens: Liatris makes an excellent cut flower for bouquets, adding height and texture. Plant them in an area designated for cutting, ensuring you have plenty to enjoy indoors.

Sustainability: Liatris species are generally drought-tolerant once established, fitting well into xeriscaping or gardens designed to reduce water use.

Incorporating Liatris into your landscaping not only enhances the garden’s visual appeal but also supports local ecosystems, making your garden a part of a larger environmental effort.

Companion Plants for Liatris

Echinacea (Coneflower)
Salvia (Sage)
Sedum (Stonecrop)
Rudbeckia hirta (Black-Eyed Susan)
Coreopsis (Tickseed)
Aster novi-belgii (New York Aster)
Aster novae-angliae (New England Aster)
Phlox paniculata (Garden Phlox)
Solidago (Goldenrod)

When to Plant Liatris

  • The best time to plant Liatris is in the spring after the threat of frost has passed or in the fall before the ground freezes.
  • For regions with mild winters, late fall planting can allow the plant to establish its root system over the winter.

Where to Plant Liatris

  • Choose a location with full sun, as Liatris thrives with at least six hours of direct sunlight each day.
  • Well-drained soil is critical to prevent root rot, so avoid areas where water tends to collect after rain. Liatris plants prefer a slightly acidic to neutral soil pH. They also tolerate poor soils, and some types will flop over if grown in too rich soil.
  • Consider the mature height of the plant to ensure it fits well within your garden design—taller varieties should be placed towards the back of garden beds.

How to Plant Liatris

  • Bulbs/Corms: Plant Liatris bulbs (or corms) about 2-4 inches deep (5-10 cm) with the pointed end facing upwards. Space them about 12-15 inches apart (30-45 cm).
  • Plants/Seedlings: If starting with plants, dig a hole as deep as the root ball and twice as wide. Place the plant in the hole so the top of the root ball is level with the soil surface. Fill in the hole and gently pat the soil to remove air pockets.
  • Watering: Water the planting area thoroughly after planting to settle the soil around the bulbs or plants.
  • Mulching: Apply a layer of mulch around the plants to help retain moisture and keep weeds down.

How to Care for Liatris

Caring for Liatris is relatively straightforward as they are low-maintenance plants once established. Here’s how to care for them:

Watering: Water Liatris regularly after planting until they are established. Once established, they are drought-tolerant and require less frequent watering. They do not like to be overwatered, so ensure the soil dries out between watering sessions.

Fertilizing: Liatris does not require much fertilization. If necessary, apply a balanced slow-release fertilizer in the spring.

Mulching: Mulch around the base to retain moisture, suppress weeds, and protect the roots in colder climates.

Pruning: Deadhead spent flowers to encourage more blooms. Cut back foliage after flowering or leave it to provide winter interest and additional wildlife support. Clean up dead foliage in early spring.

Dividing and Propagation: Divide clumps every few years in spring or fall to maintain vigor. You can also propagate Liatris by seed or by separating corms.

  • Seed: sow indoors or directly outdoors as spring begins. Expect sprouting within 20 to 45 days. Cold moist stratification for 4 to 6 weeks enhances germination, as does outdoor fall or winter sowing. Flowering typically occurs in the second year.
  • Corms: In spring, as foliage starts to show, divide large clumps. Detach corms or cut tuberous roots carefully, ensuring each piece has at least one eye.

Winter Care: In colder climates (USDA zones 4 and below), mulch heavily to protect the corms from freezing.

By following these care tips, your Liatris should thrive and bring vertical interest and vibrant color to your garden throughout the summer and into fall.

Liatris cylindracea (Dwarf Blazing Star)
Liatris spicata ‘Floristan Weiss’ (Blazing Star)
Liatris microcephala (Dwarf Blazing Star)

Pests and Diseases

Liatris is generally quite robust and resistant to many pests and diseases, but it can encounter a few issues:

Root rot: Overwatering or poorly draining soils can lead to root rot. To prevent this, ensure the soil is well-draining and avoid overwatering. Infected plants usually cannot be saved and must be removed to prevent the spread of the disease.

Powdery mildew: This fungal disease causes a white, powdery coating on leaves and stems. It’s more common in dry conditions with high humidity. Good air circulation, proper spacing, and fungicidal treatments can help manage powdery mildew.

Rust: Rust can cause orange to brown pustules on the undersides of leaves. It is often a result of too much moisture on the foliage. Rust is best treated with a fungicide and by removing and destroying infected plant parts.

Leaf Spot: This is characterized by brown or black spots on the leaves, often with a yellow halo. Various fungi cause it, and can be mitigated by ensuring good air circulation and avoiding overhead watering.

Verticillium wilt: This is a soil-borne fungal disease causing yellowing, wilting, and sometimes death of Liatris. It’s identified by dark streaks within the stem tissue. No cure exists; infected plants should be removed, and soil should not be reused for susceptible species.

Garden Examples

A Cheerful Border Idea with Liatris, Sedum and Heliopsis
A Late Season Border Idea with Asters and Grasses
A Prairie Planting Idea with Helenium, Rudbeckia and Grasses
While every effort has been made to describe these plants accurately, please keep in mind that height, bloom time, and color may differ in various climates. The description of these plants has been written based on numerous outside resources.

Guide Information

Hardiness 3 - 9
Plant Type Perennials
Plant Family Compositae
Genus Liatris
Exposure Full Sun
Season of Interest Summer (Mid, Late)
Fall
Height 1' - 5'
(30cm - 150cm)
Spread 6" - 2'
(15cm - 60cm)
Maintenance Low
Water Needs Low, Average
Soil Type Clay, Loam, Sand, Chalk
Soil pH Acid, Neutral, Alkaline
Soil Drainage Well-Drained, Moist but Well-Drained
Characteristics Showy, Cut Flowers
Native Plants United States, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, Rocky Mountains, Southeast, Pacific Northwest, Midwest, Southwest, Northeast, Minnesota, South Dakota, Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, Missouri, Kansas, Wisconsin, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, Indiana, Washington, Tennessee, South Carolina, Virginia, Alabama, West Virginia, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Kentucky, New Mexico, Wyoming, Colorado, Montana
Tolerance Deer, Drought
Attracts Bees, Butterflies, Hummingbirds, Birds
Landscaping Ideas Beds And Borders
Garden Styles City and Courtyard, Informal and Cottage, Prairie and Meadow
Compare All Liatris (Blazing Star)
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