Lovely Liatris

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Published on: Jul. 2, 2002

Last revision: Nov. 12, 2010

each flower head are pointed and stand up straight, rather than spreading outward.

Scaly blazing star - Liatris squarrosa

At first glance, this species might be mistaken for L. cylindracea, but there are some distinctions. Squarrosa means "spreading," and refers to the bracts. They are pointed like those of L. cylindracea, but instead of standing up straight, they are bent backward, giving the flower heads a spiny or scaly appearance. L. squarrosa often is hairy, while L. cylindracea usually is not.

L. squarrosa can grow to 2.5 feet tall and usually has fewer than 10 flower heads per plant. They are arranged alternately along the top portion of the plant, and the topmost flower head is usually larger than the others. There are 20 to 40 individual flowers per flower head. Scaly blazing star grows in rocky or dry open woods, prairies, savannas, glades and ledges along bluffs. It blooms from June through September.

Two Liatris species with limited distribution

Dotted blazing star - Liatris punctata

In Missouri, dotted blazing star grows only in counties along the Kansas and Nebraska borders. It blooms in late summer and early fall on loess hill prairies in northwestern Missouri and on prairies in a few counties on the western edge of Missouri.The word punctata means "dotted," and refers to numerous tiny dots on the underside of the plant's leaves and bracts. Each dot contains resin that probably deters animals from eating the plant.

Dotted blazing star grows about 3 feet high. It has so many stems it resembles a low shrub. At the top of the stems, flower heads are packed densely together into a flowering spike.

Most flower heads have three to eight individual flowers. The stems are covered with stiff, narrow leaves that grow all the way to the top of the spikes. The plants are usually smooth, except that the edges of the leaves often have a line of tiny hairs.

Bottlebrush blazing star - Liatris mucronata

This species gets its common name from its leafy stems, which resemble bottle brushes. Although it shares this characteristic with dotted blazing star, bottlebrush blazing star lacks dots on its leaves and bracts.

Also, this species grows primarily on dolomite glades in the White River Hills in southwest Missouri. It has also been found in Texas County.

Bottlebrush blazing star grows up to 2.5 feet tall and often has several stems rising from a common base, giving it the appearance of a low shrub. The leaves are hairless and have abruptly pointed tips. The tip of the leaf is known as a "mucro."

Each flower head along the spike contains three to six individual flowers. This species also differs from dotted blazing star in that it has a large corm with fibrous roots, whereas dotted blazing star has long taproots.

Two uncommon blazing stars

Two species of Liatris occur in just a few locations in the state.

Liatris scariosa and L. squarrulosa in general resemble L. aspera, with their alternately arranged flower clusters along the flowering spike. However, the flower clusters of the two species are attached to the spike with short stalks, whereas the flower clusters of L. aspera are directly attached to the spike.

Also, the bracts of the two species are usually pointed and spreading or curved backward. The bracts of L. aspera are rounded, with papery edges that are rolled backward. L. scariosa may become more well known to Missourians as it has recently become available at some plant nurseries.

L. scariosa grows in rocky, open woods, prairies and gravelly areas along streams. L. squarrulosa grows in rocky open woods and glades. Both species bloom in late summer and early fall.

Gardening with Liatris

With their abundant flowers and tolerance of poor soils and dry conditions, blazing stars make dramatic and fairly care-free additions to a garden. You can grow blazing stars either by propagating them from seed or buying plants. Several nurseries in Missouri sell native blazing star seed and plants.

You also can collect seeds from roadside blazing stars and propagate them yourselves. If you grow blazing stars from seed, expect to wait two to three years before the young plants begin to flower. Nurtured in a garden, blazing stars grow taller than in the wild. If they are not part of a dense planting, you may need to stake the plants to keep them from flopping over.

To find nurseries selling blazing star seeds or nursery-grown plants, check out the  the Conservation Department's Grow Native! program.

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