Tropical Style

Fantastic Design Plant: Blazing Star

January 4, 2019

Are you bored of perennials together with the usual round flowers and mounding habit? Looking for an accent, something that cries “wowee zowee” but doesn’t take up much property? Like butterflies to boot? Liatris, or blazing star, is one of the very unique native prairie perennials, sort of a statement plant life. Its title means “crowded” in Greek, owing to the tight clusters of flowers that bloom from top to bottom in succession over about two weeks — and possibly by the number of pests that flock to it! Keep reading, my friend — I have the species to you.

Benjamin Vogt / Monarch Gardens

Botanical name: Liatris spp
Common title: Blazing celebrity; meadow, prairie or rough blazing star
USDA zones: 3 to 8, except L. ligulistylis, which is 3 to 6 (find your zone)
Water requirement: L. pycnostachya and L. ligulistylis prefer moist to moderate soil; the others, moderate to dry; all take loam and clay soil.
Light requirement: Full sunlight to some shade
Mature size: 3 to 4 feet tall and 1 foot wide
advantages and tolerances: Attracts butterflies, birds and valuable bees by the dozens; adaptable.
Seasonal interest: Planting each one of the above Liatris species supplies flowers from early July to late September (in zone 5); good winter interest.
When to plant: Early spring to late autumn; mulch well in late collapse to prevent frost heave.

Shown here: Liatris ligulistylis is a Monarch butterfly magnet. It blooms in August for one to two weeks, in moist, moderate and even dry soil in full to partial sunlight. You don’t require much space with this plant; 6 inches of earth is just fine.

Benjamin Vogt / Monarch Gardens

Distinguishing attributes. Liatris comes in many flower designs, but mostly from the colors of purple and white. White looks fantastic on moonlit evenings.

Shown here: Liatris pycnostachya, the purple species as well as also the ‘Alba’ cultivar.

Benjamin Vogt / Monarch Gardens

A closeup of Liatris scariosa ‘Alba’. Its growing states and dimensions are similar to other Liatris species, but the blooms are certainly more unique. Scariosa blooms in August.

Benjamin Vogt / Monarch Gardens

If height isn’t your thing, try Liatris punctata, that is 12 to 18 inches tall and wide. It thrives on dry to moderate clay, in full to partial sun, frequently sending its spikes drifting through other plants from August into September.

Benjamin Vogt / Monarch Gardens

A closeup of Liatris aspera, a dry-loving perennial that looks similar to L. ligulistylis but blooms weeks afterwards, in mid-September (zone 5). All of Liatris varieties are rather versatile, with thin, needle-like leaves that gently mound near the soil surface.

Benjamin Vogt / Monarch Gardens

Following Is a swallowtail on Liatris pycnostachya. This flower blooms in midsummer (zone 5), lasting about a week, opening flowers from top to bottom on 3- to 4-foot-tall spikes. Mild clay soil and full sunlight are best, though there’s certainly wiggle room on where it can go. For each Liatris species, a wonderful clump of about 1 square foot kinds, providing several flowering stalks after a couple of decades.

How to use it. Liatris can go anywhere. It may be planted in groups, of course, but works even better as a surprise accent sprinkled among contrasting plants such as asters, grasses, coneflowers and bee balm.

Benjamin Vogt / Monarch Gardens

Planting notes. Goldfinches usually adore the winter seed of Liatris, but here this fellow is collecting a summer bouquet for his sweetheart, I presume. Do not deadhead Liatris — you won’t get fresh blooms, and you’re going to hurt that winter attention.

Many Liatris varieties have a sort of little rhizome similar to that of irises, which makes it a lot easier to plant it in late autumn together with spring-blooming bulbs such as crocus and tulips. Planting the rhizome an inch or two below the soil surface is best — higher in clay, reduced in loamy and sandy soil (but you will have to experimentation, as each garden is always distinct).

More: How to Attract Birds and Butterflies

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