From mid-summer to fall, this uncommon Liatris is adorned with columns of fluffy, button-shaped flowers in shades of rosy purple. The one-inch “blazing stars” angle out from the stem on long stalks and open from top to bottom, sending forth feathery, pink styles from densely packed florets. One of three varieties of L. scariosa (another common name for this is Nieuwland’s blazing star), this variety is native to open, dry, and gravelly areas of the eastern and mid-western United States, and it's listed as threatened in Ohio. It doesn’t do well in wet winter soils, but it tolerates drought, erosion, and a wide range of well-drained soils, including poor and rocky. It grows best in full sun and adapts better to part-shade conditions than other Liatris species. It’s an attractive vertical accent in gardens and borders, although it may need staking or natural support because the flower heads of this species are heftier than those of other blazing stars. Once the central spike has finished blooming, side branches may develop with additional flower heads. Liatris is packed with pollinators during the blooming season. Hummingbirds and numerous butterflies, bees, and other pollinators are attracted to the flowers, which, in turn, attracts insectivorous birds and insects. In the fall, the flowers are replaced by fluffy, golden brown seed heads that persist through winter to fortify finches and other small birds. There are no serious disease problems with this species; however, it does have a few pests, namely deer and rabbits, so protect the plant until it’s well established. It reproduces via seeds and offshoots from its corms, or roots.
The meaning of the genus name has been lost, but the species name is translated as “thin and dry.” Liatris is part of the Aster family, characterized by flower heads that contain only fluffy disk flowers and no ray flowers. Savanna blazing star’s flowers look similar to those of rough blazing star’s (L. aspera), but the flowers of L. aspera are sessile (attached directly to the stem) and have fewer florets in the flower heads.
Native habitats include oak savannas; open, rocky, dry woodlands; prairies; and gravelly areas along streams. Use in borders, cottage and rock gardens, prairies, open woods, and naturalized areas. Makes an excellent cut flower.
Grows 2-5’ tall and 1-2’ wide.
Prefers full sun or light shade.
Grows in a wide range of average to dry, well-drained soils, including loamy, sandy, and rocky.
An inflorescence of 10-40, 1-2” flower heads on 3” peduncles bloom on tall, smooth or downy stems July-October. Each head has 25-80 pink disk florets with long styles. Disk florets give way to bullet-shaped seeds with tufts of golden-brown hairs.
Alternate, smooth-edged, widely spreading leaves are arranged densely around the stem. Rough, linear to oblong lower leaves on petioles are up to 12" long. Leaves decrease in size and width as they ascend the stem.
Root system consists of rounded corm with fibrous roots. Vegetative offsets are produced from new corms.
Host plant for 5 species of Lepidoptera larvae, including wavy-lined emerald moth and two specialist moths (blazing star borer and liatris borer moth). 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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