Blazing Stars (Gayfeathers; Liatris)

Media
Top of a prairie blazing star’s floral spike, with the sky and prairie visible in the background
Scientific Name
Liatris spp.
Family
Asteraceae (daisies, sunflowers)
Description

Missouri boasts nine native species of blazing stars, also called gayfeathers, in genus Liatris. These showy, upright, unbranching spikes of magenta-pink wildflowers typically bloom in sunny habitats. If you’re wondering how to tell if a Missouri plant is a blazing star, and if so, which species you’ve found, this is your page.

Globally, there are about 45 species in genus Liatris. They are native to North America.

As a group, Missouri’s blazing stars all have some things in common:

  • Plants are perennial, single stalked or with up to several stalks arising from a common base, erect or ascending, and do not branch. The flowerheads are typically stalkless (or on short stems) and clustered along the top of the plant stalk, usually looking like a spike or wand. The plants bloom from the top down, as opposed to the bottom up.
  • Flowers (florets) are tiny and grouped into flowerheads. Unlike more famous members of the sunflower family, blazing stars have no petal-like ray florets. With only disc florets, the flowerheads look fuzzy. Liatris flowers are typically pink to reddish purple or magenta, rarely white; the styles (elongated pistil tips) are 2-branched, threadlike, and protrude far outside the 5-lobed petal tube.
  • Leaves are narrow, alternate, and can be so dense on the stem they appear whorled. The leaves at the base of the plant are the largest. The leaves gradually become smaller and narrower up the stem. Leaves near the top of the stem are often linear (grasslike).
  • After blooming, the florets of blazing stars mature into seedlike fruits. These are topped with a cluster (pappus) of bristles. In some blazing stars, the bristles are merely equipped with tiny barbs; in others, the bristles are soft and feathery. This distinction can be helpful for identification.

To ID the different species, it helps to understand some anatomy terms:

  • Flowerhead — the blossom-like clusters of tiny, tubular flowers (florets) packed together into a single unit. In blazing stars, the flowerheads contain only disc florets (similar to the florets at the disc-like center of a daisy or sunflower). The spacing or density of flowerheads on the stalk of blazing stars can help with IDs. Some blazing stars have the flowerheads so crowded that you cannot see the main stalk between them. In others, the flowerheads are spaced apart so you can see the stalk between them. Some of the latter types have the flowerheads on small stems, holding them out from the central plant stalk, while in others the flowerheads are sessile (stemless, attached directly to the main stalk).
  • Florets — the tiny individual flowers that are bunched together in the flowerhead. The number of florets per flowerhead can be helpful for IDs. Pick apart a representative flowerhead or two over a sheet of paper and count the tiny florets that fall from the involucre.
  • Involucre (IN-vuh-loo-kur) — the cuplike or vaselike structure at the base of the florets. Its shape can vary quite a bit.
  • Involucral bracts (in-vuh-LOO-krul brakts); also called phyllaries — the greenish, leafy or scalelike structures at the base of the involucre. They are often arranged in overlapping series (whorls). Characteristics of involucral bracts can be very useful for IDs, just as if they were tiny leaves. Bract tips can be pointed, rounded, or jagged, and they can be long and slender or abrupt. The bracts can be pressed close against the involucre or they can spread or curl away from the involucre; they can be curved or inflated into swollen-looking pouches. The texture and thickness of bracts can vary, and so can their color (pure green or tinged with purple); and so on.

The common names are not standardized. Each species has more than one common name, and the same common name is often used for more than one species. It is probably easiest to learn the Latin names.

The following list of Missouri’s nine Liatris species is in order (roughly) by how common or widespread they are, with the most commonly encountered species at the top.

Liatris pycnostachya (prairie blazing star; gayfeather; button snakeroot; thickspike gayfeather)

Scattered nearly statewide; occurs in glades, upland prairies, ledges and tops of bluffs, savannas, openings of upland forests, and rarely banks of streams; also ditch banks, fencerows, pastures, railroads, and roadsides.

Most similar to L. spicata, which is rare in Missouri’s natural habitats but is commonly cultivated in landscape plantings and may escape from cultivation. The involucral bracts are different; also, L. spicata in our state is glabrous (not hairy, as L. pycnostachya usually is).

Keys to ID:

  • Usually a hairy plant; rootstock a globe-shaped corm.
  • Height: usually about 2–5 feet.
  • Leaves quite narrow (linear), very numerous, the lower ones to 16 inches long and about ½ inch wide, becoming much shorter higher up; surfaces hairless or with dense, short hairs; the basal and stem leaves with 3 or 5 main veins.
  • Blooms July–October.
  • Flowerheads densely crowded into an elongated spike at the top portion of the plant stalk, the stalk usually not visible between the heads; with only 4–9 florets (sometimes up to 12) per head.
  • Involucre narrowly cup-shaped to nearly cylindrical.
  • Involucral bracts hairy, tapered to long, sharply pointed tips that spread or curl backward.

Notes:

  • Often seen blooming in large colonies in tallgrass prairies. A famous, favorite prairie flower.
  • White-flowering forms exist but are rare.
  • Pycnostachya (PICK-no-STACK-yuh) means “thick, dense spike” and refers to the crowded floral spikes.
  • Missouri’s populations of this species are variety pycnostachya. Another, hairier form, var. lasiophylla, occurs to our southwest (Texas through Louisiana).

Liatris aspera (rough blazing star; rough gayfeather; button blazing star)

Scattered statewide except for the Bootheel; occurs in upland prairies, loess hill prairies, glades, exposed ledges and tops of bluffs, savannas, openings of upland forests, and rarely banks of streams; also pastures, railroads, and roadsides.

Most similar to L. scariosa and L. squarrulosa. See comments with those. This is the most common and widespread of the three; its swollen, pouchlike involucral bracts that look torn at the edges guarantee the ID. Also, its flowerheads are sessile on the plant stalk.

Keys to ID:

  • Plants hairy or smooth; rootstock a corm.
  • Height: usually about 2–6 feet.
  • Leaves alternate; the lowest ones to 10 inches long and 1 inch wide, widest at the middle, with a petiole (leaf stalk); the upper ones becoming much shorter and stalkless; narrowly lance-shaped; with 1 main vein.
  • Blooms August–November.
  • Flowerheads alternate along the upper stalk, spaced apart so you can easily see the main plant stalk; flowerheads stemless or with very short stems, to about 1 inch wide, with 14–30 florets; the topmost/terminal head not notably larger than the others.
  • Involucre broadly cup- or bell-shaped.
  • Involucral bracts looking swollen or pouched; the margins with broad, thin, pale to transparent margins that are irregularly torn or uneven-looking; some bracts or their margins purplish-tinged.

Notes:

  • White-flowering forms exist but are rare.
  • Aspera means “rough.” It might refer to the texture of the leaves, or to the overall rough, nubby look of the involucre.

Liatris squarrosa (scaly blazing star; scaly gayfeather)

Scattered nearly statewide, but apparently absent from most of the western half of northern Missouri; occurs in glades, ledges and tops of bluffs, openings of dry upland forests, savannas, and upland prairies; also pastures, fencerows, railroads, and roadsides.

Most similar to L. cylindracea (with which it sometimes hybridizes). The involucral bracts are different: they are appressed in cylindracea, but in squarrosa they curl back to make the involucres look like burs.

Keys to ID:

  • Plants often hairy; the rootstock a globe-shaped corm.
  • Height: usually 8–30 inches, rather short compared to most other blazing stars.
  • Leaves: the basal and stem leaves, and most others, with 3 or 5 main veins; the basal leaves to about 8 inches long and ¼ inch wide; becoming smaller and narrower (grasslike) up the stem.
  • Blooms July–September.
  • Flowerheads few, sessile or on short stalks only to ⅜ inch long, spaced apart so you can easily see the stalk between them, arising from the axils of the upper leaves, with 15–45 florets (sometimes up to 60, especially in the terminal/top flowerhead, which is usually larger).
  • Involucre narrowly cup-shaped to roughly cylindrical, resembling a bur due to the reflexed, pointed bracts.
  • Involucral bracts long-pointed and spreading, bending back sharply, looking scaly, something like the spines of cockleburs.

Notes:

  • Missouri has 3 varieties of this species, with var. hirsuta the most common by far, occurring nearly statewide; it is hairier than other varieties, looking fairly shaggy with long, straight, spreading hairs. Many botanists consider it a separate species, calling it hairy blazing star (or hairy gayfeather, L. hirsuta). Our other varieties are glabrata (more common in northern Missouri) and squarrosa (more common in southern Missouri).
  • Squarrosa means “scaly; rough”; it refers to the reflexed (spreading) involucral bracts.

Liatris cylindracea (cylindrical blazing star; dwarf blazing star; few-headed blazing star)

Scattered in the Ozarks and Ozark border and north on the eastern half of the state; occurs in glades, ledges and tops of bluffs, openings of dry upland forests, and upland prairies; also pastures and roadsides.

Most similar to L. squarrosa (with which it sometimes hybridizes). The involucral bracts are different: They are appressed in cylindracea (accentuating the cylindrical shape of the involucre). In L. squarrosa, they curl back to make the involucres look like burs.

Keys to ID:

  • A very short blazing star with stiff stems; smooth overall, usually hairless; rootstock a globe-shaped corm.
  • Height: usually 8–12 inches, very short; our shortest blazing star.
  • Leaves: the basal and stem leaves, and most others, with 3 or 5 main veins; linear (grasslike) or nearly so; to 10 inches long and less than ¼ inch wide, becoming smaller up the stem; stalkless; smooth, usually shiny.
  • Blooms July–September.
  • Flowerheads alternate, usually on short, stiff stems to 1½ inches long (sometimes sessile; rarely up to 2½ inches), spaced apart so you can easily see the stalk between them, with 10–35 florets.
  • Involucre narrowly cup shaped to vase-shaped or nearly cylindrical; the appressed bracts enhance the cylindrical look of the involucre.
  • Involucral bracts rounded, triangular, to oval with rounded or short, sharp tips: smooth, flat, appressed (not spreading or curling away).

Notes:

  • White-flowering forms exist but are rare.
  • Named cylindracea for the elongated, fairly cylindrical involucre at the base of each flowerhead.

Liatris scariosa (savanna blazing star; devil’s bite; large gayfeather; eastern blazing star)

Scattered in the Ozarks and north to Pike County; occurs in upland prairies, glades, exposed ledges and tops of bluffs, savannas, and openings of upland forests; also pastures and open, grassy, disturbed places.

Most similar to L. squarrulosa and L. aspera. L. aspera is the most common of the three and is identified by its pouched or swollen-looking involucral bracts, which look irregularly torn on their edges; also, L. aspera has a much shorter stem for each flowerhead. See also the comments with L. squarrulosa.

Keys to ID:

  • Height: usually about 1–6 feet.
  • Leaves with 1 main vein, oblanceolate (reverse-lance-shaped) to elliptic, the largest ones at the base with a leaf stalk (petiole); the blades to about 20 inches long and 2 inches wide; leaves becoming smaller and stalkless (sessile) up the stem; at the top of the plant, they may be mostly linear.
  • Blooms July–October.
  • Flowerheads with 29–80 florets; the heads on stout, rather long stems (about ½ to 1½ inches long); the stems often with several small, loosely spaced, leafy bracts; the plant stalk is visible between the rather loosely spaced flowerheads; the top/terminal flowerhead is usually larger than the rest.
  • Involucre broadly cup- or bell-shaped.
  • Involucral bracts green, widely oval, the margins pale or purple-edged, erect or ascending, the outer (lowest) row sometimes spreading or reflexed; mostly flat or only slightly swollen, not noticeably flaring outward.

Notes:

  • Missouri’s populations of L. scariosa are considered to be variety nieuwlandii.
  • Because of its limited distribution and/or small numbers in or state, it is listed as a Missouri species of conservation concern, ranked as imperiled.
  • This species, with its huge, fluffy, buttonlike flowerheads and long flowering period, should be cultivated more often.
  • Scariosa means thin or shriveled, membranous, scarlike, and not green. This probably refers to the narrow, thin, pale to dark purple edges of the involucral bracts.

Liatris squarrulosa (Appalachian blazing star; southern blazingstar)

Scattered mostly in the Ozark and Ozark border regions, especially in the southeastern quarter of the state; occurs in glades, bases and tops of bluffs, savannas, openings of upland forests, and rarely upland prairies, ditch banks, fencerows, pastures, railroads, and roadsides.

Most similar to L. aspera and L. scariosa. The three species are in a difficult-to-identify group. In Missouri, L. squarrulosa is a relatively short plant, with relatively few flowerheads. However, on Crowley’s Ridge in southeast Missouri, L. squarrulosa is taller, longer, with many-headed flower stalks.

To distinguish between L. scariosa and L. squarrulosa, note differences in number of florets per flowerhead, length of flowerhead stem, presence/numbers of bracts accompanying the flowerhead stem, and the angling of the involucral bracts.

Keys to ID:

  • Stems with short, curled hairs, sometimes rough to the touch; rootstock a corm.
  • Height: usually about 1–5 feet.
  • Leaves with 1 main vein, oblanceolate (reverse-lance-shaped) to narrowly elliptic, the largest ones at the base with a leaf stalk (petiole); the blades to about 10 inches long and 1¾ inches wide; leaves abruptly becoming smaller and mostly stalkless (sessile) up the stem; at the top of the plant, they may be linear.
  • Blooms August–November.
  • Flowerheads with 11–26 florets (sometimes to 28); these sessile (stemless) or with short stems (not more than about ½ inch long); the flowerheads are alternate on the plant stalk, with the plant stalk easily visible between the heads; a narrow, leafy bract is at the base of each flowerhead where it joins the main plant stalk; the topmost flowerhead is usually larger than the rest.
  • Involucre broadly cup- or bell-shaped.
  • Involucral bracts green, often purplish, at least at the outer margin, widest at the outer portion with rounded tips (obovate or spatulate), often appearing slightly swollen; nearly all with the tip spreading or reflexed, with only the innermost (topmost) series usually ascending.

Notes:

  • Squarrulosa means “full of scales”; it apparently refers to the involucral bracts, which mostly angle away from the involucre and look like scales.

Liatris mucronata (bottlebrush blazing star; narrow-leaved gayfeather)

Uncommon in southwest Missouri, specifically the western portion of the Ozarks (Barry, Stone, Taney, Ozark, Christian, Douglas, Wright, and Texas counties) (the White River watershed and its tributaries); occurs in glades and ledges and tops of bluffs, on limestone and dolomite substrates.

Most similar to L. punctata, which has a thickened, elongated taproot (not a globose corm). Their geographic ranges do not overlap, and this is probably the easiest way to separate the two. Also, L. punctata has gland-dotted leaves with hairs along the young leaf margins.

Keys to ID:

  • Looks rather bushy; often has several, unbranching stalks arising from a bulblike, globe-shaped rootstock.
  • Stems and leaves glabrous (hairless, smooth).
  • Height: usually about 1–3 feet.
  • Leaves green, rather soft, mostly arched or curved outward, and glabrous (smooth; hairless) (not grayish green or with hair on the margins of younger leaves); the lowest leaves the largest, to 6 inches long but less than ¼ inch wide, getting gradually smaller up the stem; with 1 main vein. Named “bottlebrush” for the narrow, wide-spreading leaves that stick out at right angles from the main stalk.
  • Blooms July–October.
  • Flowerheads densely crowded into an elongated spike at the top portion of the plant stalk, the stalk usually not visible between the heads; with only 3–6 florets, leaves are interspersed along the spike, giving a bottlebrush look.
  • Involucre only 7–12 mm (about ¼ to ½ inch) long (compare to L. punctata, which averages slightly larger); narrowly cup-shaped to nearly cylindrical.

Notes:

  • The classification of L. mucronata is in transition. Its center of distribution is to our southwest (mostly Texas). Recent researchers have classified it as a variety of L. punctata, as var. mucrontata. Missouri’s populations may be most closely related to L. aestivalis, or summer gayfeather, which occurs in Texas and Oklahoma. Genetic studies, and studies of variation among populations in different regions, will sort it out.
  • Mucronata refers to some part of this plant being mucronate: having a tip (usually of a leaf) ending in an abrupt, sharp point (a mucro). In this case it may refer to the abrupt, sharp tips of the involucral bracts.

Liatris punctata (dotted blazing star; prairie snakeroot; prairie blazing star)

Uncommon in Missouri’s northwestern border counties (Atchison, Holt, Jackson, Cass, and maybe Bates counties); occurs in loess hill prairies and rarely upland prairies.

Most similar to L. mucronata, which has a globose corm (not a thickened, elongated taproot). Their geographic ranges do not overlap, and this is probably the easiest way to separate the two. Also, L. punctata has gland-dotted leaves with hairs on the young leaf margins.

Keys to ID:

  • Looks rather bushy; often has several, unbranching stalks arising from a single thickened, elongated, carrot-shaped taproot.
  • Overall, hairless, smooth, except for along the margins of young leaves.
  • Height: usually about 1–3 feet.
  • Leaves, like L. mucronata, give the plant a bush or bottlebrush look; the lowest leaves the largest, to 3 inches long and less than ¼ inch wide, getting gradually smaller up the stem; they are grayish green, rather thick and leathery, mostly straight, with at least some (the younger leaves) hairy along the margins (the hairs break off with age, leaving tiny, stubby bases); glandular-dotted (look for tiny dots on the undersides of the leaves); otherwise mostly hairless and smooth; with 1 main vein.
  • Blooms August–October.
  • Flowerheads densely crowded into an elongated spike at the top portion of the plant stalk, the stalk usually not visible between the heads; with only 3–7 florets; leaves are interspersed along the spike, giving a bottlebrush look.
  • Involucre 10–14 mm (about ⅜ to ⅝ inch) long (compare to L. mucronata, which averages slightly smaller); narrowly cup-shaped to nearly cylindrical.

Notes:

  • White-flowering forms exist but are rare.
  • Missouri’s populations of L. punctata are considered to be variety punctata. Because of its limited distribution and/or small numbers in or state, it is listed as a Missouri species of conservation concern, ranked as vulnerable.
  • Some botanists consider the very similar species L. mucronata to be a variety of L. punctata; they classify L. mucronata as L. punctata var. mucronata.
  • Punctata means “dotted” and refers to the tiny resin dots on the undersides of the leaves and bracts.

Liatris spicata (dense blazing star; marsh blazing star; button snakeroot)

Uncommon in Missouri — in the wild. Common in cultivation, however, and may escape from cultivation in some places.

Most similar to L. pycnostachya, a widespread, common species growing nearly statewide in natural habitats, which has the involucral bracts tapered to long, sharply pointed tips that are spreading or curved backward (instead of rounded or broadly angled to a bluntly pointed tip that is appressed to the involucral cup). L. pycnostachya is also typically a hairy plant, which L. spicata in Missouri is not.

Keys to ID:

  • Stems hairless, smooth (in Missouri); rootstock a globe-shaped corm.
  • Height: usually about 1–5 feet.
  • Leaves quite narrow (linear), very numerous, the lower ones to 16 inches long and about ½ inch wide, becoming much shorter higher up; glabrous (smooth, lacking hairs) (in Missouri); the basal and stem leaves with 3 or 5 main veins.
  • Blooms July–October.
  • Flowerheads densely crowded into an elongated spike at the top portion of the plant stalk, the stalk usually not visible between the heads; with only 4–8 florets (sometimes up to 14).
  • Involucre narrowly cup-shaped to nearly cylindrical.
  • Involucral bract tips are appressed (pressed flat against the involucre) and are often bluntly rounded.

Notes:

  • As a native, L. spicata might be gone from our state. The only known Missouri native site for this species was at an upland prairie in Oregon County, near Bardley, Missouri (close to the border with Arkansas), but although a population of this species lived there in the 1930s, L. pycnostachya has since become common at the site, and the two have hybridized extensively, so that pure L. spicata apparently no longer exists there. As a Missouri species of conservation concern, L. spicata is listed as extirpated.
  • Meanwhile, this is the species most commonly available at garden centers. L. spicata is common elsewhere in the eastern United States, and it is often cultivated by gardeners. It may escape from cultivation.
  • Some cultivated varieties may have white flowers, compact growth habit, extra-long or strong stalks (good for the florist trade), or other unusual characters.
  • Spicata means “spicate” and refers to the unbranching spikes of stalkless flowers.

Hybrids: Where they grow near one another, different Liatris species may interbreed and create hybrids. The hybrid offspring plants are often fertile and can make a colony. If you find a blazing star (or patch of blazing stars) that seems to be intermediate between some of the descriptions above, you may have found a hybrid. Look around for one or two of the possible parent species growing nearby.

Similar species: The daisy/sunflower family is very large, and many species also have pinkish-purple, fuzzy-looking flowerheads. Examples include ironweeds, knapweeds, thistles, Joe-Pye weeds, and mist flowers. Blazing stars are distinguished by their growth habit: plants with unbranching stalks bearing stemless or short-stemmed flowerheads in wandlike spikes or spike-like elongated clusters at the tops of the stalks.

Common Name Synonyms
Snakeroots
Button Snakeroots
Size

Height: most Missouri blazing stars are around 2–5 feet tall. Our smallest species, L. cylindracea, is not more than 12 inches tall.

Where To Find

Statewide. Different species have different distributions within the state. The regional distribution can be very useful for identifying some of our species.

Blazing stars are almost always found in open, sunny habitats, generally ranging from prairies and pastures, to glades and openings in woodlands, to railroads and roadsides. Details for the different species are given in the Description section.

Native perennial wildflowers. Three are listed as Missouri species of conservation concern: Liatris punctata (vulnerable); Liatris scariosa (imperiled); and Liatris spicata (native populations have been extirpated).

Blazing stars are among the showier plants to grace native wildflower gardens as well as formal landscape plantings. Several species are in cultivation. Most of Missouri’s blazing star species can be purchased at native plant nurseries. Liatris spicata is very popular and is often available at garden centers and home supply stores; it often appears at florist shops as a cut flower. Blazing stars are also used in dried flower arrangements.

In gardens, blazing stars are popular because they are a magnet for pollinators such as butterflies and bees. Birds feed on the seeds. The sweet, thickened rootstocks, however, are attractive to voles and other herbivorous mammals.

Rootstocks of various blazing star species were eaten, raw or baked, by early American settlers and by Native Americans. Apparently they were mostly used as a survival food. Various tribes also used some blazing star species medicinally to treat a wide range of ailments. The common name “snakeroot,” applied to certain blazing stars, apparently comes from a belief that they could be used for treating snakebites.

In the past, horses have been fed a decoction of the rootstocks of certain blazing star species as a stimulant before races.

To understand the name “gayfeather,” imagine yourself as a settler journeying west through what were formerly vast expanses of native, treeless tallgrass prairie. These showy flowers must have lifted hearts, even when the wagon wheel broke!

Many types of insects visit blazing stars for food. Monarch butterflies are a famous example, but a wide variety of other butterflies, skippers, bees, beetles, flies, and other insects collect pollen or nectar. Aphids and other sap-suckers drink the plant juices with their strawlike bills. Many herbivorous insects chew on or bore into the leaves, flowers, stems, rootstocks, or other plant parts. Some are specialized to eat only blazing stars.

Blazing stars are the host plants for some species of noctuid flower moths. Flower moths are named because their caterpillars eat the flower buds and developing seeds of their host plants. The females deposit eggs onto the host plants. The beautifully pink bleeding flower moth (Schinia sanguinea) is limited to Liatris species and can survive on nothing else. The caterpillars are rosy pink to camouflage them against their pink-flowering larval food plants. The adults are also rosy pink to camouflage them against the flowers as they rest and deposit eggs on these flowers. A closely related species, S. tertia, is known to feed on L. punctata. Caterpillars of the three-lined flower moth, S. trifascia, feed on a variety of plants in the eupatorium tribe, including false boneset, Joe-Pye weeds, and blazing stars.

In addition to the many insects that feed on the plants, other animals are attracted to blazing stars in order to hunt the herbivores (and each other): lady bugs, robber flies, mantises, assassin bugs, crab spiders, and more. Birds come to eat nearly any of the insects and spiders they can find.

Birds eat the fruits of blazing stars, which are like tiny sunflower seeds. Goldfinches are notable consumers of blazing stars, coneflowers, thistles, sunflowers, and sunflower-family seeds that develop in late summer as they nest late in the season. The fuzzy tufts of blazing star seeds are also used to line nests.

Mammals that eat blazing stars include rabbits, woodchuck, and deer, which graze on the aboveground parts of the plant, and voles, which gnaw on the corms or other thickened rootstocks.

Many native prairie plants have roots that penetrate deep into the soil, and blazing stars are no exception. For example, prairie blazing star’s roots can easily reach 10 to 12 feet deep, and the roots of cylindrical blazing star can extend 15 feet below the surface! This enables the plants to reach life-giving moisture and survive in hot, dry, competitive environments. Over thousands of years, the presence of countless deep-rooted prairie plants built up the rich, fertile soils of the Great Plains. Before European settlement, more than a third of Missouri was covered by native tallgrass prairie.

Deep-rooted, perennial plants like blazing stars are incredibly important for stabilizing soils against erosion caused by rains, floods, winds, and more. For thousands of years, native prairies thrived despite occasional intensive trampling and grazing by vast, roaming herds of bison and occasional fires set by lightning or by Native Americans. Plowing the prairies for row crops — and eliminating the super-tough, feet-thick thatch of native prairie roots and sod — created conditions that led to the devastating Dust Bowl of the 1930s.

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About Wildflowers, Grasses and Other Nonwoody Plants in Missouri
A very simple way of thinking about the green world is to divide the vascular plants into two groups: woody and nonwoody (or herbaceous). But this is an artificial division; many plant families include some species that are woody and some that are not. The diversity of nonwoody vascular plants is staggering! Think of all the ferns, grasses, sedges, lilies, peas, sunflowers, nightshades, milkweeds, mustards, mints, and mallows — weeds and wildflowers — and many more!