Prairie Blazing Star (Gayfeather)

Photo of dense stand of prairie blazing star or gayfeather at Pawnee Prairie
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Scientific Name
Liatris pycnostachya
Asteraceae (daisies)

Prairie blazing star is a perennial with an unbranched stalk, sometimes seen by the thousands, hairy throughout. Flowerheads densely crowded around upper spikelike stalk, rose-purple. Involucral bracts (overlapping leaflike structures at the base of each flowerhead) broadly lance-shaped, recurved (flaring back), tapering to a sharp point, mostly with thin, pale to transparent margins, the margins or the entire bract sometimes strongly purplish-tinged. Heads have 4–9 disk florets. Blooms July–October. Leaves quite narrow, the lower to 20 inches long, becoming much shorter higher up. Rootstock a rounded corm.

Similar species: There are 9 species of Liatris recorded for Missouri, and many of these have been known to hybridize where they occur in the same vicinity. To distinguish between the various species and hybrids, one should be prepared to note details of the flower structure, such as the involucral bracts described above.

Common Name Synonyms
Button Snakeroot

Height: to 5 feet.

Where To Find
image of Prairie Blazing Star Gayfeather Button Snakeroot distribution map

Scattered nearly throughout the state.

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. The common name "snakeroot" is applied to several Liatris species; apparently at one time they were believed to be useful for treating snakebites.

Liatris species were used by Native Americans to treat a variety of ailments. Indians and early settlers also ate the roots raw or baked. Liatris are some of the showier plants used in native wildflower gardens and many are available at native plant nurseries. They are also used by florists. To understand the name "gayfeather," imagine yourself as a settler journeying west through what were formerly vast expanses of native tallgrass prairie. These showy flowers must have lifted hearts, even when the wagon wheel broke!

A wide variety of insects visit the flowers, and birds feed on the seeds. The sweet, thickened rootstocks are relished by voles and other herbivorous mammals. Blazing stars are an important (and showy) part of the complex community of plants in the tallgrass prairie.

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Similar Species

Where to See Species

Approximately 25 miles west of the Pony Express Conservation Area on the Missouri River is the original site of a settlement known as Blacksnake Hills, later to become the city of St.
This 4,809-acre area is composed of the 2,355-acre Atlanta tract and the 2,454-acre Long Branch tract.
Osage Prairie is a remnant of the prairie ecosystem that once covered more than a quarter of Missouri. It is also home to plants and animals that are specially adapted for life on the open prairie.
The Conservation Department created this area in 1968 with the purchase of 1,024 acres from several landowners.
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!