by Elaine Mills, Extension Master Gardener
Photos by Elaine Mills
Over the past two years, the Glencarlyn Library Community Garden added four species of blazing stars to the renovated beds bordering the parking lot. These are all attractive perennial native wildflowers that homeowners may want to consider for their own gardens. The plants, which are all members of the aster family, are distinctive in that their feathery flower heads consist only of disk florets without accompanying ray flowers.
Liatris spicata (dense blazing star or gayfeather), the tallest of these plants at two feet to four feet, can add a vertical accent and is especially effective when planted en masse in sunny to partially shady borders, butterfly gardens, and meadows in moist to wet soil. It features rigid stems with densely packed spikes of disk flowers that bloom from July to August above a tuft of grass-like basal leaves. The pinkish-purple blossoms offer nectar to bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds, and songbirds enjoy the seeds that develop.
Liatris scariosa, known as large or eastern blazing star, is an upright, clump-forming plant with a basal tuft of narrow, lance-shaped leaves and leafy flower stems. The reddish-purple, thistle-like flowers are spaced along the stems on short stalks and bloom from August into October. This species grows in full sun and dry to moist soils and is tolerant of summer heat and humidity but not wet soil in winter. Like gayfeather, its inflorescences bloom from top to bottom, attracting bees and butterflies to borders and cottage gardens.
Liatris squarrosa, commonly called scaly blazing star, has one or more erect, unbranched stems one to three feet tall with relatively few small, linear leaves. The tuft-like red-violet flower heads are widely spaced on a spike at the top of the stems and begin blooming in June for about a month. This species prefers full sun and dry soil that is rocky or sandy in texture. It can be used in small groups in the middle of borders or pollinator gardens where it attracts bees, butterflies, moths, and hummingbirds.
Liatris microcephala (dwarf blazing star), native to the southern Appalachians, is the most diminutive species, measuring one to two feet tall. It has a mounded tuft of grass-like basal leaves and clusters of four to six orchid-colored disk florets spaced along multiple upright flower stems from July into October. This drought-tolerant plant grows best in full sun and lean, dry soil with good drainage, especially in winter. It is an excellent accent or edging plant for border fronts and rock gardens where it attracts butterflies and hummingbirds.