Liatris — blazing star — is attractive addition

Published 4:33 pm Friday, August 2, 2019

By Kristi Hendricks

Liatris quickly becomes the talk of the summer garden when planted as part of your landscape inventory. Appropriately nicknamed blazing star for its shooting stems, this Virginia wildflower is an attractive and welcomed addition to Southside habitats. Not only is value found in the eye-catching flowers, but this forb also affords plant height to perennial gardens and naturalized areas.

Let’s dig a little deeper to find out more about this midsummer bloomer. There are numerous species of native liatris (, so let’s limit our focus to the shaggy, grass-leaf blazing star (Liatris philosa) suited for dryer conditions and marsh blazing star (Liatris spicata) more appropriate for moist conditions.

Although liatris is in the aster family, this plant has disk flowers without the surrounding rays. The butterflies and bees don’t seem to mind as the frilly flowers are pollinator magnets beckoning insects and hummingbirds to sample their nectar wares.

The marsh blazing star is an erect, slender native reaching a lofty height of 4-5’. Its leaves are clumped toward the base of the plant, but extend up the stem to the showy, raspberry-colored flower cluster. The tufted heads are arranged on a long spike that blooms in the unusual way from top down. The protruding styles give the flower a feather duster appearance, giving way to another common name of dense gayfeather.

Marsh liatris prefers a natural habitat of wet meadows and clearings. Be sure to select a moist site when planting at home or plan to water for longer lasting flowers. This liatris tends to bloom on flouncy stems from July into August.

Grass-leaf blazing star is commonly found in dry woodlands and roadsides in the Coastal Plain. Its species name means having leaves resembling those of grass. Flowering stems rise up from tufts of narrow, dark green leaves that have hairy fringed margins. This liatris blooms from July into September on shorter spikes than the marsh species.

There are both white and purple cultivars available commercially. Display liatris with elephant ears, goldenrod, black-eyed Susans and cosmos beyond a frontage of silver mound and verbena ground covers for splendid contrast and effect. Site in full sun, spacing the plants at least a foot apart.

Or arrange liatris in drifts in perennial borders, native plant gardens and cottage gardens for a bottlebrush exhibit. Blazing star tolerates poor soils and is known to flop over if placed in too rich of a soil. Once established, liatris is drought tolerant.

Dig and divide clumps of liatris only in the spring just as the leaves emerge. Separate the corms (stem base) keeping at least one “eye” on each division.

For other wildflowers to include in your backyard habitat, e-search VCE article 426-070.