The enchanting rose-purple fairy wands of this herbaceous perennial are beloved for their dense (pycnostachya is Greek for “crowded”) flower heads and foliage. Prairie blazing star (aka Kansas gayfeather) grows 2 to 4 feet tall in full sun and a range of dry to wet soils. It’s one of the few Liatris species that grows well in very moist or poor soils, and it tolerates occasional drought once established.
The erect wands add color and texture to the landscape while attracting a wide variety of pollinators. Blooming downward about 8 inches from the top of the stem, the five-lobed, tufted flower heads have protruding stamens and styles that give the inflorescence a fuzzy appearance. The lower portion of the stout stem is covered with fuzzy, grass-like leaves. Prairie blazing star can be distinguished from other blazing stars by its sharply recurved bracts; other species usually have smooth, straight bracts with variable shapes and hairiness. Like other species, its corms, or roots, will form offshoots over time.
Native habitats include prairies; rocky, open areas; moist woodlands; and areas along railroads. Liatris is a unique cut flower for perennial gardens and an excellent addition to wildflower meadows, rock gardens, and wet areas. It’s a good companion for coneflower, rattlesnake master, mountain mint, goldenrod, and wild bergamot.
Prefers full sun and tolerates part shade.
Grows 2-4’ tall.
Prefers dry to moist rocky, sandy, sandy loam, and clay soils.
A long spike of rayless, pinkish-purple flower heads blooms July-September on the upper half of the stem. Each head has 5-10 flowers that give way in fall to small, one-seeded fruits with light-brown tufts of hair for wind dispersal.
Linear leaves with smooth margins and prominent central veins are about 10” long near the base of the plant, becoming smaller as they ascend the hair-covered stem.
Host plant to 6 species of Lepidoptera larvae, including 3 specialist moths and wavy-lined emerald (pictured here with its caterpillar), three-lined flower (adult pictured here), glorious flower and sunflower moths. It’s pollinated primarily by long-tongued bees such as honey, bumble, little carpenter, miner, and large leafcutting. Butterfly visitors include monarchs, swallowtails, painted ladies, sulfurs, and whites. Small mammals and deer sometimes eat the plant, which will likely regenerate from the corms.
Medicinal, Edible, and Other Uses:
Native Americans ground the roots and used them as a pain reliever for headache, arthritis, and earaches. The roots were also used to treat fevers, and the leaves were used for upset stomachs and as an antiseptic wash.
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