Native to the American prairies, Liatris pycnostachya commonly known as the Prairie Blazing Star or Kansas Gayfeather has tall spikes of dense violet-lavender to purple flower heads and is one of the most conspicuous of all the prairie inhabitants.
Liatris pycnostachya is an excellent species to plant in large sweeps in the naturalistic, prairie garden or meadow garden. It can also be planted individually in in a formal garden and provides striking vertical contrast to mounded or broad-leaved plants. Mix with other perennials in the back of borders or in cutting gardens. Clumps may be massed together to make a bold statement in a bed or repeated throughout a border to provide exclamation points that contrast with more rounded or bunched blossoms.
Liatris pycnostachya grows best in full sun to partial shade, and bloom in July to September. The plants grow to a height of 90 to 150cm (3 to 5ft) and a spread of 30 to 60cm (1 to 2ft). They produce flowers in poorer soil than most garden plants, but thrive best in good, rich garden soil. They tolerate drought, and summer heat and require no special care.
The blooms are long-lasting whether in the garden or as a cut flower. The spikes bloom starting at the top and working their way to the bottom, and if cut for bouquets when only blooming near the top, the spikes' buds will open day by day, and the spent top can be trimmed as it fades.
This easy to grow perennial is an outstanding nectar plant for butterflies, bees and other pollinators. Bees and butterflies enjoy the nectar in summer and the birds love the seeds in the autumn. Small birds such as finches will cling to the spikes in late autumn or early winter to eat the feathery seeds.
Sowing: February to May or September to October.
Start Liatris seeds indoors or sow them directly in the garden in early spring.
Sow the seeds on the surface of lightly firmed, moist seed compost in pots or trays. Cover seed with a light sprinkling of compost or vermiculite. Place in a propagator or warm place, ideally at 14 to 24°C (55 to 75°F). Keep the compost moist but not wet at all times, water from the base of the tray. Germination 20 to 25 days.
Prick out each seedling once it has its first set of true leaves and transplant into 7.5cm (3in) pots containing free-draining compost and grow them on in frost free conditions until large enough to plant outside.
Gradually acclimatise to outdoor conditions for 10 to 15 days before planting out after all risk of frost has passed. Overwinter autumn sown plants in frost-free conditions before planting out the following spring. Plant 30 to 60cm apart.
Transplant in well drained soil in full sun, if the soil is rich, the stems get floppy. The plants dislike wet ground, particularly during winter. Improve heavy soil conditions by adding coarse grit or sharp sand prior to planting.
Liatris grows best when planted in full sun and well-drained soils. The plants are very drought resistant and are not fussy about soil types as long as the drainage is good. They will tolerate some shade, and poorer soils. Space the plants 30 to 35cm (12 to 16in) apart, this will allow for sufficient sunlight and air circulation among the stems to prevent Botrytis from developing.
Liatris should be planted as early as possible in the spring after the last possibility of frost, but can also be planted in late summer or early autumn when cooler temperatures return. Water plants regularly during the first growing season to establish a strong root system. Once established, Liatris plants are fairly drought tolerant. Do not overwater, Liatris seeds grow into corms and resemble small bulbs and if allowed to sit in constantly wet soil the corms will rot.
Fertilise before new growth begins in the spring using an organic fertiliser. Do not over fertilise as the flower spikes will flop over if plants are grown in overly fertile soils.
When the flowers are dried and spent, they still have a browned decorative value for a little while in autumn, but by November they look dead. The blackened dried flower spikes may persist in winter and it's up to individual tastes whether to prune them right away or wait until spring.
Established plants do not need dividing until they either die out in the centre or become clumps that are too big for the available space. If this occurs, divide the tubers in the autumn or spring just as leaves are emerging. Dig up the clumps and separate the corms or cut tuberous roots with a sharp knife or shovel, keep at least one eye on each division.
Wait until the flower heads on the entire stalk have turned fluffy tan before collecting in October. Bring the stalks inside to air-dry then shake or brush the nutlets from the heads. Seeds can be cleaned or stored with chaff in sealed, refrigerated containers.
Liatris spicata is the most prominent species that is commercially grown for florists. It make a great cut flower and can be used fresh or can be dried. Harvest the spikes in the morning, look for stems with about a quarter to a third of the blooms open. You may use tighter flowers, but you’ll have to use a full-dose flower food or bud-opening solution to get blooms to open.
Before arranging, rinse the stems under tepid running water and recut the stems on an angle, with a sharp, sterilised blade, removing at least 25mm (1in) of stem.
Depending on the stage of maturity Liatris have a vase life of six to fourteen days. Recut the stems and change the flower-food solution in their containers every two or three days.
To dry the flowers, cut when one-half to two-thirds of the flowers are open. Spikes can be air-dried by hanging them upside down in a protected spot for approximately three weeks or by using a desiccant such as silica-gel or sand, which often leads to superior colour preservation.
Cottage/Informal Garden, Prairie Planting, Borders and Beds, Wildlife Gardens, Flower Arranging.
The genus Liatris is in the aster family, Asteraceae. It contains roughly 30 species that occur in almost every U.S. state east of the Rocky Mountains as well as in southern Canada and Northern Mexico. They hybridise freely so there are many populations of hybrid origin that complicates identification of plants. All have perfect flowers that are tubular shaped in discoid heads.
Native to much of the eastern US, Liatris pycnostachya are an important part of the complex community of plants in the tallgrass prairie. They occurs in glades, upland prairies, ledges and tops of bluffs, savannahs, openings of upland forests, and rarely banks of streams. It can be found growing with Echinacea, Rudbeckia, Solidago and prairie grasses.
The first record of Liatris pycnostachya can be found in the botanical notes of Andre Michaux, a French botanist who explored the American West about a decade before the famous Lewis and Clark expedition. This species is distinguished from other Liatris species by its reflexed, long-tipped involucre bracts.
The meaning of the genus name Liatris has unfortunately been lost in antiquity.
The species name pycnostachya derived from the Greek pycno meaning ‘dense’ or ‘crowded’ and from the Greek stachus for ‘ear of grain’ or ‘a spike’, in reference to the spike-like form of the flowers. Together they refer to the close grouping of the leaves and flowers. The narrow leaves on the lower two-thirds of the plant are so crowded that to the casual observer they may appear spiralled rather than closely alternate.
Commonly called the Prairie Blazing Star each flower head having only fluffy disk flowers and no rays, they resemble ‘blazing stars’.
- Additional Information
Packet Size 100mg Average Seed Count 50 seeds Family Asteraceae Genus Liatris Species pycnostachya Common Name Prairie Blazing Star Other Common Names Kansas Gayfeather Other Language Names Fr: Plume du Kansas. Dutch: Lampenpoetser Hardiness Hardy Perennial Flowers Violet-lavender multiple disk florets. Natural Flower Time Mid to late summer - July to September Foliage Dark green, narrow grass-like leaves. Height 60 to 120cm (24 to 48in) Spread 60cm (24in) Position Full sun preferred. Will tolerate some shade, and poorer soils. Soil Moist well-drained soil. Will tolerate poorer soils. Time to Sow February to June or September to October. Germination 20 to 25 days at 14 to 24°C (55 to 75°F)