Blazing Stars (also called Gayfeathers) of the Liatris genus have general characteristics of: Stem leaves narrow and lance shaped; the flower heads, typically numbering 5 to 60 (but 160+ on a few species), appear on a spike, each flowerhead containing a number of small tubular 5-lobed pink-purple florets. Local variations in species populations will be observed. Rootstocks are corms and rhizomes.
L. pilosa grows on erect stems 1 to 3 1/2 feet high. Stems are generally smooth but some plants may have fine hair, especially near the top. Stems are greenish with fine ridges of a darker green.
Leaves are both basal and stem with the basal leaves being long and wider near the tip than the base. Stem leaves are linear, long and widely separated, becoming shorter and more ascending in the upper stem with a few between the flowers. The underside may have fine hair.
The floral array is a spike of heads that are noticeably longer than wide and stalkless on the stem and not densely positioned.
Flowers: Flower heads hold 7 to 12 florets which have a pinkish purple corollas with funnelform throats with 5 pointed spreading lobes, with hair on the inside of the corolla tubes. The stamens are not exserted but the style is long and deeply bifurcated and bending which gives a 'shaggy' appearance. The phyllaries of the flower head are in 4 to 5 series, oblong, unequal in size, mostly without hair and with margins that are translucent and irregular in shape. Tips are usually rounded, sometimes pointed.
Seed: Fertile flowers produce a dry seed (a cypsela), 3 to 4 mm long, that has bristly hair attached for wind dispersion.
Varieties: A number of varieties of this species has been referenced in the past. The Garden variety is considered to be var. pilosa. Flora of North America recognizes these as local variations of the same basic species and not as separate varieties.
Habitat: This species of Liatris prefers full sun in well drained soil, sandy to sandy-loam, with moderate moisture conditions. In the wild it will be found open woods, sandy fields, edges of tidal marshes, pine barrens, etc. Long-tongued bees and butterflies will visit these plants. It grows from a globose corm-like structure.
Names: The genus Liatris is an old name whose meaning has been lost. The species pilosa, means 'covered with soft hair' and refers to the hair of the corolla of the flower and sometimes on the stem. The author name for the plant classification - ‘Aiton’ is for William Aiton (1731-1793), Scottish botanist, succeeded Phillip Miller as superintendent of the Chelsea Physic Garden and then became director of Kew Gardens, where he published Hortus Kewensis, the Garden’s catalogue of plants. His work on this species was updated by ‘Willd.’ who was Carl Ludwig Willdenow (1765-1812), German botanist, a founder of the study of the geographic distribution of plants. He was director and curator of the Botanic Garden of Berlin.
Comparisons: Several other species of blazing star have widely spaced heads in the floral array. Ontario Blazing Star, L. cylindracea, is also a short plant, but with smooth stems, smooth non-spreading phyllaries and 10 to 35 florets. Large-headed Blazing Star, L. ligulistylis, has the most widely spaced flower heads, a stem reaching 3 to 4 feet with or without fine hair, rounded tips on the phyllaries with the middle ones have irregularly cut tips, and densely packed heads with 30 to 70 florets. Scaly Blazing Star, L. squarrosa, is a short plant, with hairy stems, phyllaries that are pointed and spreading to reflexed, and 23 to 45 florets.
Below: The floral array has stalkless flowerheads noticeably longer than wide. The corolla has 5 pointed spreading lobes. The bifurcated style extends far beyond the corolla throat.
Below: 1st photo - Stems are greenish, usually without hair, leaf edges may have a few white hairs. 2nd photo - The underside of a leaf showing the prominent mid-vein. The underside may have fine hair as shown here. 3rd photo - Seeds have a bristly pappus attached for wind dispersion of the seed.
Below: Stem leaf and a basal leaf. Basal leaves are longer with the widest part between mid-leaf and the tip.
Notes: Shaggy Blazing Star is not indigenous to the Garden area. It is not native to Minnesota, but is native to the east coast from New Jersey southward. This plant was not listed on Martha Crone's 1951 inventory of plants in the Garden at that time nor on the 1986 census. It was brought in subsequent to that census.
In Minnesota five species of Liatris are considered native and several others have been reported but have never been collected. The native five are L. aspera, Rough Blazing Star; L. cylindracea, Ontario Blazing Star; L. ligulistylis, Large-headed (or Rocky Mountain) Blazing Star; L. punctata, Dotted Blazing Star; L. pycnostachya, Prairie Blazing Star.
References: Plant characteristics are generally from sources 1A, 32, W2, W3, W7 & W8 plus others as specifically applied. Distribution principally from W1, W2 and 28C. Planting history generally from 1, 4 & 4a. Other sources by specific reference. See Reference List for details.
Friends of the Wild Flower Garden, Inc. Text and photos are by G. D. Bebeau unless otherwise credited. "www.friendsofthewildflowergarden.org"