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July’s Native Plant of the Month: Dense Blazing Star (Liatris spicata)

A butterfly sitting on purple fluffy flowers liatris spikata. Scientific name is Liatris spicata.

There are roughly 50 species of Liatris native to North America, but today I’m going to talk about one in particular. Liatris spicata, commonly called Dense Blazing Star, Blazing Star, Gayfeather, or Marsh Blazing Star, is an herbaceous perennial native to the eastern United States. It is a member of the Aster family (Asteraceae). Liatris has grass-like foliage and blooms in the summer between July and August. It flowers in clusters of tiny purple to pink, star shaped flowers atop terminal spikes. This perennial typically grows 2-4 feet tall, and is often found in moist areas and meadows. This lower maintenance plant is fairly drought tolerant, prefers full sun to part shade, and handles summer heat and humidity without a problem. L. spicata can be grown from seed. 30-60 days of cold stratification will greatly increase germination rates. Late fall or early winter sowing will effectively do this. L. spicata often does not bloom until their second year. They will form corms, or modified, underground stems that act as a food storage structure for the plant, which can be dug up in spring, divided and transplanted.

L. spicata holds exceptional ornamental value in a landscape, providing a burst of color in July and August, as well as interesting, spiky foliage. The purple to pink blooms go well with yellows, like Goldenrod (Solidago), Tickseed (Coreopsis), Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia), as well as pinks like, Coneflower (Echinacea), Ironweed (Vernonia), or Phlox spp. Liatris also provides a nice color and texture contrast to dark foliage plants such as certain cultivars of weigela, ninebark (Physocarpus), and Foxglove Beardtongue (Penstemon). It can be planted in drifts or groups for a big display of color, or individually as an accent in a more formal setting. There are numerous possibilities with this beautiful plant that make it a great choice for any garden.

Pictured:  Liatris spicata at the entrance of Wellfield’s English Cottage Garden. The pinkish flowers and spiky foliage contrast the dark leaved Weigela and the silvery blue spruce in the background.

This perennial will brighten up any garden in mid-summer with its showy, tall spikes of blooms. Not only is it a beautiful flower, but it attracts a myriad of pollinators as well. Liatris species are host plants for the flower moths Schinia gloriosa and Schinia sanguinea, both of which feed only on this genus. Liatris is a food source for many native bees, birds, butterflies, and hover flies. Their flowers also provide an important nectar source for Monarch butterflies. 

L. spicata is one of my personal favorites when it comes to native perennials. Next time you’re at the gardens, keep a lookout for them. See if you can spot this beautiful and ecologically beneficial perennial near The English Cottage Garden. Stay tuned for next month’s native plant. We hope to see you at the gardens!

Kyle Strain
Lead Horticulturist

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