Home of the Practically Perfect Pink Phlox and other native plants for pollinators

Wednesday, June 26, 2024

Wildflower Wednesday: Liatris spicata

Liatris spicata is a delightful exclamation point in my June meadowish habitat. Bumblebees, butterfly and hoverflies are the most frequent visitors to the purple flower wands.

 It has grass-like foliage and blooms in June (my garden) for about 3 weeks. The common name blazing star or even dense blazing star makes sense when you look closely at the clusters of tiny purple to pink, star shaped flowers atop the wands/terminal spikes. Blazing star is often described as low maintenance and if you have average to moist, well-drained soils then you're in luck. Blazing star's natural habitat is wet depressions in prairies and meadows. Long time readers know the conditions in this garden do not meet that description.

The soil at Clay and Limestone is shallow and sits over limestone rocks and boulders. It dries out fast  when the summer temps arrive and drains slowly during the winter. I've had the best luck growing L spicata in a container. 

Why containers? They're perfect for any plants that need good drainage or consistently moist soil. Winter loss is a huge problem with Blazing Stars because too much moisture over winter will rot the corms. Planting in containers with well draining soils has been a good solution for stopping winter rot and keeping blazing star happy.

I have seven containers that are sited in the sunniest part of my garden. The flowery wands top out at between 2 and 3 feet tall. Of course I wish I had deep soil so I could mass them and see them growing 5 foot tall and waving in the breeze. They would look like the statuesque beauties I've seen in wet prairie gardens! But, then this garden wouldn't be Clay and Limestone, would it! 

 Liatris is a member of the Asteraceae family and there are roughly 50 species of Liatris native to North America including many cultivars and hybrids from Mexico to Canada and from the Atlantic Ocean to the Rocky Mountains. L spicata has grass like basal leaves and non daisy like flower spikes (the flower heads have disc florets and no ray florets) that are a delightful rosy purple. They also come in white, but, I prefer the rich rosy purple. The blossoms begin opening from the top of the spike downward and according to one source they have a slight vanilla scent when the seedheads are dried. They would make a beautiful bouquet with other wildflowers, but I don't grow a cutting garden, I grow plants for the bees, butterflies and other pollinator and insect visitors. It’s a magnet for monarchs and tiger swallowtails, and also attractive to silver-spotted skippers, red admirals, painted ladies and sulphurs. Hummingbirds are known to visit and I've been on the look out for them. I never deadhead them even though I've read they might rebloom. I prefer to leave the spent flowers to provide vertical interest long after their color has faded and for thethat  indigo bunting, goldfinches, and other seed-eating birds feed on the seeds.

I love seeing them massed with grasses and other prairie plants. That's the community they thrive in and the grasses and taller forbs provide support and keep them from flopping. I think they look especially lovely with  yellow flowers. For my garden that means Rudbeckias, Hypericums and Partridge peas. They also look spectacular with Purple coneflowers/Echinacea and Phlox paniculata. 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.

Blazing stars are tough plants and most of the Liatris genus are quite drought tolerant. L spicata is the most wet tolerant of all the species, but none of them like a wet winter. In fact, that's a guaranteed way to rot the corms. I've planted them in a good mixture of soil, soil conditioner and expanded shale to give them the drainage they require.

I want more blazing star!

Why grow Liatris?  

It checks a lot of boxes!

  • Pollinator magnet: It attracts bees, butterflies, and birds!     
  • Four seasons of interest, exceptional ornamental value
  • Adaptable and easy to grow.
  • The dried flower heads provide seeds for birds
  • Once established it's fairly drought and heat tolerant  
  • Interesting flowers, great for cut flower arrangements     
  • Deer resistant
  • Grows well in average to poor soils, but prefers moist soil



The flower heads have disc florets,  but no ray florets.

The Particulars

Botanical Name: Liatris spicata 

Family: Asteraceae 

Common Name: Blazing star, dense blazing star, gayfeather

Plant Type: Herbaceous, perennial

Hardiness Zones: 3–9 (USDA) 


Native Area: native to the eastern United States

 Mature Size: 2–5 ft. tall, 9–18 in. wide 

Sun Exposure: Full or light shade

Soil Type: Well-drained 

Soil pH: Acidic, neutral 

Bloom Time: Summer/June in my mid-south garden

Flower: Liatris flowers are clusters of many small, individual florets located on one composite head. The flower heads have disc florets and no ray florets.

Leaves: grass like leaves are narrow

Color: Rosy lavender/Purple, white 

Propagation: Plant corms in the spring. The corms should be planted 1-2" deep and spaced 12-18" apart. After planting, water well. The flowers usually bloom about 90 days after planting.

Wildlife value: Liatris species are host plants for the flower moths Schinia gloriosa and Schinia sanguinea, both of which feed exclusively on the genus. L. pilosa, L. scariosa, L. aspera, L. pychnostachya, L. spicata and L. punctata are amongst the species that are recommended as monarch nectar sources by the Xerces Society.

Comments: While not commonly grown in containers go ahead and plant them there. They would be beautiful on your  full sun balcony planted with other natives that love the same growing conditions. The important thing is to make sure the soil is well draining. It is attractive in mass plantings in a pollinator garden, rain garden, perennial border, native plant garden, or a cottage garden. I've seen photos of a mixture of white and purple liatris and I must admit they do look beautiful. 

Deer resistance: Visiting deer have browsed on Phlox and a few other plants, but so far they've left the Liatris alone. I appreciate each and every bloom that survives what the deer and bunnies think of as the Clay and Limestone all you can eat buffet.

The Genus: There are 8 different species of Liatris in Tennessee and I have hankered after all of them. Most require full sun and dry, but fast draining sandy or rocky soils. Both L aspera or L squarrulosa are native to Davidson county, TN and available from a local native plant nursery. Thinking about trying them!

My goal has been to have as many in containers in order to make a big rosy purple presence. I'll keep you in touch with my successes or failures with the genus.xoxogail

 Welcome to Clay and Limestone and Wildflower Wednesday.  This day is about sharing wildflowers and other native plants no matter where one gardens~the UK, tropical Florida, Europe, Australia, Africa, South America, India or the coldest reaches of Canada. It doesn't matter if we sometimes share the same plants. How they grow and thrive in your garden is what matters most.


Gail Eichelberger is a gardener and therapist in Middle Tennessee. She loves wildflowers and native plants and thoroughly enjoys writing about the ones she grows at Clay and Limestone. She reminds all that the words and images are the property of the author and cannot be used without written permission.

1 comment:

  1. I have this plant in my garden, too. I love it, the pollinators love it, and it's been a garden staple for so long. I'm linking in. Thanks for hosting!


"Insects are the little things that run the world." Dr. E O Wilson