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. squarrosa is a short erect perennial growing from 1 to 2+ feet high on stems that can vary from smooth to having stiff spreading hairs.
The leaves are both basal and alternate on the stem. The basal are the longest, broadly linear in shape and can be 6+ inches long but only 3/16 inches wide. Stem leaves are similar in shape, alternate and decrease in size toward the top of the stem where leaves are + or - 1-1/2 inches long and only 1/16 inch wide. The underside of the leaf can have short stiff hair as can the margin and upper surface on stem leaves. Stem leaves are not dense on the stem and have a distinct twist to them.
The floral array is a spike like raceme with one or more stalked to sessile flower heads, well separated on the spike - not dense. Each flower head is subtended by a long leafy bract.
Flower heads are 5/8 inches long and up to 1 inch wide and hold 23 to 45 florets which have a pinkish purple corollas with funnelform throats, without hair on the inside but there may be fine hair on the corolla lobes which reflex outward. The 5 stamens are not exserted but the style is, being long and deeply bifurcated. The phyllaries around the outside of the flower head are in 5 to 7 series, about equal in size, the outer series ovate-triangular grading to broadly oblong on the inners. Tips are stiff, broadly to sharply pointed with the tips spreading to reflexing. These are usually with very fine hair and hairy margins and the margins may be translucent. Color can range from greenish initially and shading to deep purple.
Seed: Fertile flowers produce a dry ribbed seed (a cypsela), obconic in shape, 4 to 5.5 mm long, with fine surface hair and a tawny color pappus attached for wind dispersion. Seeds of Liatris usually need 60 days of cold stratification for germination.
Habitat: Liatris squarrosa prefers full sun in well drained soil with dry to moderate moisture conditions and a soil that is more sandy than loamy. Long-tongued bees and butterflies will visit these plants. It grows from a globose to slightly elongated corm-like structure.
Names: The genus Liatris is an old name whose meaning has been lost. The species squarrosa, means 'with parts spreading' or 'recurved at ends', referring here to the spreading, re-curving phyllaries. The author names for the plant classification are: First to classify was '(L.)' which refers to Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778), Swedish botanist and the developer of the binomial nomenclature of modern taxonomy. His work was amended by - ‘Michx.’ which is for Andre Michaux (1746-1802), French botanist who made many exploring expeditions in the U.S. collecting and cataloging many species. Two important works of his are the Histoire des chênes de l'Amérique septentrionale (1801 - Oaks of North America), and the Flora Boreali-Americana (2 vols., 1803). His son Francois, traveled with him and the father’s notes were later used for the 3-volume North American Sylva, for which Thomas Nuttall provided some supplements.
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. Shaggy Blazing Star, L. pilosa, grows to 3-1/2 feet high with either smooth or finely hairy stems, fewer phyllaries and only 7 to 12 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.
Above: 1st photo - Flower heads are separated on the spike but can be stalked or sessile. 2nd photo - Stems have stiff spreading hair. Stem leaves can also have hair. 3rd photo - They are not dense on the stem but have a distinct twist.
Below: The long basal leaves are up to 6+ long but only 3/16 inches wide. The stem leaves are much shorter, the uppers + or - 1-1/2 inches long and only 1/16 inch wide with a distinct twist.
Below: Flower heads have 23 to 45 florets opening from the edges toward the center. Corolla lobe tips reflex; only the long bifurcated style protrudes from the tube.
Below: 1st photo - The phyllaries of the flower head are in 5 to 7 series, usually with hair (at least on the margins), shading from green to dark purple. Tips are pointed and spreading. 2nd photo - The root is a globose to slightly elongated corm-like structure
Below: Fertile flowers produce a dry ribbed seed, obconic in shape, with fine surface hair and a tawny color pappus attached for wind dispersion.
Notes: Historically - Eloise Butler first introduced Scaly Blazing Star to the Garden on Sept. 29, 1923 when she sourced 5 corms from Denison Iowa. She planted more in 1927. Martha Crone planted Scaly Blazing Star in 1935 which she obtained from a source in Taylor's Falls MN - probably Strand's Nursery. She planted more in 1945 on 3 dates totaling 62 plants, more in 1946 and '47, but she did not report it on her 1951 Garden census. It is found in the United States from South Dakota, Iowa, Michigan, Ohio and West Virginia on the north and then south to the gulf coast and along the east coast. Not present in Canada.
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.
Identification booklet for most of the flowering forbs and small flowering shrubs of the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden. Details Here.
Friends of the Wild Flower Garden, Inc. Text and photos are by G. D. Bebeau unless otherwise credited. "www.friendsofthewildflowergarden.org"