Total Guide to Liatris Pycnostachya (Prairie Blazing Star)


If you are looking for a tall, dramatic, mid-summer display then Prairie Blazing Star is for you. This is one of the tallest varieties of Liatris you can grow, and it can make a dramatic focal point for any garden. I’ve been growing this beautiful flower for several years, and can show you all you need to know – from germination to blooming.

I planted these between two trees. And they grew….well…interesting

In this article:

What is Prairie Blazing Star

Prairie Blazing Star is a herbaceous perennial flower native to North America. Scientifically known as Liatris Pycnostachya, it will grow 4′ tall in full sun and well-drained soil. Blooming for a month in mid-Summer, the tall purple spikes of flowers attract numerous bees, butterflies, and other beneficial insects. [1] [2] [3]

Native Range of Prairie Blazing Star

The native range of Prairie Blazing Star generally follows a North South corridor from Minnesota to Louisianan, covering almost all of Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, and Arkansas.

Additionally, it has escaped gardens and become established in several states such as Ohio and Pennsylvania.

Native Range of Prairie Blazing Star (Liatris pycnostachya). Source [4]

Reference Table

Scientific Name / Latin NameLiatris pycnostachya
Common Name(s)Prairie Blazing Star
Native Range, USDA ZoneUSDA Hardiness Zone 3-9
Bloom TimeMid-Summer, June-July-August
Bloom Duration, Color4 weeks, Pink to Purple
Height4′ (1.2 m)
Spacing / Spread12″-18″ (30-45 cm)
Light RequirementsFull Sun
Soil TypesClay-Loam, Loam, Rocky
MoistureMoist to Medium-Moist soil
Fauna Associations / Larval HostsBees, Butterflies, Moths
Sources [1] [2] [3]

What are the Benefits of Prairie Blazing Star

Beauty

Prairie Blazing Star is arguably the most beautiful of all the Liatris genus. It is truly gorgeous and hypnotizing seeing the tall majestic purple spikes sway back and forth in the breeze, busy with bees and butterflies. These truly are stunning flowers.

Pollinators

Like other members of the Liatris genus, Prairie Blazing Star will attract numerous pollinators. Everything from Bumblebees to Skippers to Large Butterflies and even Hummingbird Moths. You will be able to observe all of these wonderful insects up close with this plant. All of this make it a very important native plant that helps your local ecosystem.

Long Bloom Time

It’s huge spikes of purple flowers bloom for a month or more. The flowering stalk is HUGE on this plant. And it will bloom from top to bottom for a month.

Clay Soil

Prairie Blazing Star is one of those rare flowers that can absolutely thrive in Clay Soil. So, if you have clay – don’t fight it! Embrace it by planting Native Flowers that can grow well in Clay! Why fight Mother Nature?

Related ==> 25 Plants that THRIVE in clay soil

Identification and Characteristics of Prairie Blazing Star

Prairie Blazing Star grows to a height of 4′ consisting of one or more stalks emanating from a central clump of leaves.

Stalk

The central stalk is unbranched, strong, and will have ridges that run along the length. It is green in color and has white hairs throughout.

Stalk and Leaf of Prairie Blazing Star, Liatris pycnostachya

Leaf

The leaves of Prairie Blazing Star are similar to blades of grass. In botanical terms, they are linear, 4″-8″ long (10-22 cm) by 1/8″-3/8″ wide (4-10mm) and alternate around the stem, but are not whorled. They have smooth edges and a central vain that is noticeable.

Flower

At the end of the leaves, the flower spike begins. Liatris has a stout spike with numerous flowerheads, each with around 10 pink-to-purple flowers. These small ‘purple’ hairy flowers are very unique, and almost look like something out of Jim Henson’s imagination rather than from mother nature.

I do have to note that there are naturally occurring ‘white’ versions of Prairie Blazing Star. They are rare, but they do exist.

The flowers have no noticeable scent. The bloom time for Prairie Blazing Star is in Summer, generally in July-August and lasts for roughly 4 weeks. Peaking at about mid-Summer.

Once blooming is finished, seed heads will form at the flowers. Small tufts of feather/hair will be attached to seeds. The feather-seed combination resembles a bad-mitten birdie.

Liatris Pycnostachya seed

Root

The root system of Prairie Blazing Star (Liatris pycnostachya) consists of Corms (very similar to bulbs). [1] The corm mass will grow each year and can be divided roughly every 3rd to 5th year.

Related==> How to divide Liatris

Prairie Blazing Star versus Blazing Star

Common names of plants often get confusing, and the Liatris genus is no different! There are multiple species within the Liatris Genus that have a common name that is some variation of “Blazing Star”. Well, the most popular version of Liatris would be Liatris Spicata, which is commonly referred to as “Blazing Star”. Let’s take a look at some of the differences.

Reference Table on Liatris Pycnostachya vs Liatris Spicata

Common NamePrairie Blazing StarBlazing Star, Gayfeather
Scientific / Latin Name Liatris Pycnostachya Liatris Spicata
Height3-5′ (90-120 cm)2-3′ (60-90 cm)
Bloom Time*Late Spring to Early Summer
(Julu-Aug)
Summer
(June-July)
*Reference USDA Zone 6, based on growing this plant myself.

As a general rule, Prairie Blazing Star is taller than Blazing Star. Also, “Prairie Blazing Star will bloom about a month after Blazing Star. But, both species grow in similar soil, moisture, and sunlight conditions. So, the bloom time or height are the best ways to differentiate the two species!

Grow and Care for Prairie Blazing Star

If planted in its preferred growing conditions, Prairie Blazing Star will not require any special attention or care. Try to match your planting location to the conditions I describe below, and you should have no issues!

Sunlight Requirements

Prairie Blazing Star prefers full sun, which is at least 6 hours of direct sunlight per day. It will tolerate partial sun, which is 4-6 hours of sun per day, but take care to make sure it gets sun from most directions or else it will lean. Do not plant this in shade.

Also, make sure you get sun from all possible directions. If planted in strange or partially shaded light conditions, the stalks of Prairie Blazing Star will grow in funny directions or curl (see below).

I planted these between two trees. And they grew….well…interesting

Moisture Requirements

Liatris pycnostachya likes moist to medium-moist soil. It does not like drought.

Soil Requirements

Prairie Blazing Star will grow best in loam or clay loam, as they hold moisture well.

It likes moist soil, so Liatris Pycnostachya does not like sandy soils. Although I’ve managed to grow them in a sandy loam, but it was heavily compacted.

Related ==> Learn to test what kind of soil you have here.

Maintenance / Staking

It is possible that the tall 4′ spikes of Liatris pycnostachya will need to be staked if it is grown in very fertile soil. Also, if the plant is grown in an area that makes light inconsistent – aka if it is planted between two shrubs or trees, the spikes may grow in strange directions or flop.

Fall / Winter Care

Liatris will self-seed a bit. So, if you want to avoid this just cut the stalks off in September / October after the flowering has finished.

Also, you can cut the stalks back to the ground in Autumn, as this is a herbaceous perennial, meaning it will come back every year. Although, the birds really do love eating the seed. So, I leave my stalks up until they have been cleaned by the birds.

Fertilizer

Prairie Blazing Star does not require fertilizer.

Deadheading

While it is possible to deadhead Liatris plants, it generally doesn’t produce many blooms. My own experience of trying to deadhead multiple Liatris plants only resulted in small amounts of flowering. So, it is better to just let the stalks go to seed so the birds can get some food!

How to Grow Prairie Blazing Star from Seed

Growing Prairie Blazing Star from seed is by far the most economical way to obtain plants. You just need to do a bit of planning, and have a bit of patience.

Cold Moist Stratificaiton

Seed of Prairie Blazing Star needs to go through a 30 day period of cold moist stratification to break dormancy. If the dormancy isn’t broken, then the seed will not germinate. To cold stratify Liatris seed, either use a moist paper towel in the refrigerator, or Winter Sow the seed. [5] [6]

Process to germinate Prairie Blazing Star seed

The following steps assume that the seed has either been cold stratified in the refrigerator for 30 days, or that it is being Winter Sown. If you are unfamiliar with either method, we have guides on stratifying seeds in the fridge and Winter Sowing.

  1. Fill a container with moist potting soil. The potting soil should be moist, but not sopping wet.
  2. Sprinkle Prairie Blazing Star seed on top of the soil. You should put at least 3-5 seeds.
  3. Press the seed into the soil. You want the seed to have good contact with the moistened potting soil.
  4. Take a handful of potting soil, and crumble it over the seed. Press this in. You are not trying to ‘bury’ the seed, but just give it a dusting of soil.
  5. Place several more seeds on top of the soil.
  6. Keep the seeds moist. Use a pump sprayer or spray bottle to mist the seed. That way you won’t wash the seed away.
  7. Place the container where it gets morning sun and afternoon shade. This is an important step! Morning sun allows sun to help break dormancy, warm the soil. But it won’t evaporate much moisture. Giving the seed a better chance to germinate.
  8. Seed should germinate a few weeks after daytime temperatures warm up in Spring.
  9. Transplant seedlings about two weeks after the ‘true’ leaves are present. The ‘true’ leaf of Liatris just looks like a blade of grass. See image below.
Liawtris pycnostachya seedling

How to save seed from Prairie Blazing Star

You can easily save your own seed from Prairie Blazing Star. Once the seed looks ripe, and is gray/brown and light/fluffy, just cut the stalk below the seed. Place the stalk in a paper bag, and let it dry out in your garage for a week or so. Then, rake your hand along the stalk to release the seed and chaff. Finally, store the seed in a sealed zip-lock bag in the fridge until you are ready to stratify or winter sow.

Do not store Liatris seed at room temperature exposed to the air. The seed will lose viability.

For a more detailed step by step guide on saving Liatris seed, click here.

Wildlife, Pests, and Diseases associated with Prairie Blazing Star

Pollinators

Long-tongued bees are the primary pollinators of Liatris pycnostachya. Bumblebees, honey bees, capenter bees, Miners, and leaf-cutters all frequent Prairie Blazing Star.

You will also be treated to regular visits from butterflies and skippers. I’ve seen large Sawllow Tails hang out feeding on the nectar for long periods of time.

And finally, I’ve seen hummingbird moths visit this plant with regularity. Now, I might have a healthier population than most people, as I have copious amounts of Wild Bergamot and Ironweed that also attract Hummingbird Moths. But I thought I should mention that if you make a large stand of Prairie Blazing Star, you should have a decent chance of encountering the clear-wing hummingbird moths.

Deer and Rabbits

The main pest you may have to deal with for Prairie Blazing Star is Deer, Rabbits and Voles. Rabbits will eat the young foliage of the plant. While Deer may browse the more mature plants. I personally used liquid fence to establish my patch of Prairie Blazing Star. I suggest you do the same. You can find Liquid Fence on our recommended products page.

For Voles, they may eat the corms of Liatris plants. This is a big problem, as without the corm, you have no plant! So, get voles under control before you attempt to grow Liatris.

Disease – Yellow Leaves

Liatris generally isn’t effected by disease. But – in times of drought, the lower leaves may turn yellow. If the lower leaves turn yellow, they may even fall off. If this happens, check the soil moisture and see if the plant needs supplemental watering.

Where you can buy Prairie Blazing Star

is not typically sold in nurseries, as it isn’t a typical ‘garden friendly’ plant. But it can be purchased at specialty nurseries that deal in Native Plants. You can find native plant nurseries near you on our interactive map.

Where to buy seeds

We have ordered a variety of native flower seeds from Everwilde Farms, which you can order right from Amazon through our link on our RECOMMENDED PRODUCTS PAGE. (We may earn a small commission when you purchase through our links, at no cost to you. This helps support our website.)

Uses of Prairie Blazing Star

Garden Uses

For garden usage, Prairie Blazing Star is quite versatile in that it can be grown in formal flower beds, wildlfower meadows, micro-prairies, border gardens, and even rain gardens – just about anywhere. It would also make an excellent addition to any Butterfly Garden.

Prairie Blazing Star makes such a dramatic sight that it can make an excellent focal point in a formal flower bed. The tall majestic spikes of puple-pink flowers can really add curb appeal and interest to any yard.

That being said, the key thing to remember when choosing a location for Prairie Blazing Star is to make sure you maximize the sunlight! It wants sun from all directions, and will grow straightest when it is in the open.

Companion Plants

The number of companion plants that can grow with Prairie Blazing Star are numerous! It’s tall purple spikes can contrast nicely with soooo many different flowers! For some species that bloom at the same time and would contrast nicely with Prairie Blazing Star, try the following;

For plants that like similar growing conditions, but would bloom before or after Prairie Blazing Star, see the following list:

Cut Flower

Prairie Blazing Star can make an excellent cut flower in vases or even in dry arrangements. The long bloom time (top to bottom progression) make it a long-lived cut-flower.

Medicinal Uses

While other species of Liatris were used medicinally by Native Americans, no record exists describing any medicinal use of Prairie Blazing Star. [7]

Read about more native plants here

References:

[1] – Nesom, Guy L. (2006). “Liatris pycnostachya“. In Flora of North America Editorial Committee (ed.). Flora of North America North of Mexico (FNA). 21. New York and Oxford – via eFloras.org, Missouri Botanical Garden, St. Louis, MO & Harvard University Herbaria, Cambridge, MA.

[2] – Keller, Carl O. “The genus Liatris in Indiana.” Butler University Botanical Studies 9.12/26 (1950): 218-226.

[3] – Gaiser, Lulu Odell. “The genus Liatris.” Rhodora 48.572 (1946): 165-183.

[4] – Gaiser, L. O. “The genus Liatris (continued).” Rhodora 48.574 (1946): 273-326.

[5] – Greene, H. C., and John T. Curtis. “Germination studies of Wisconsin prairie plants.” American Midland Naturalist (1950): 186-194.

[6] – Blake, Abigail Kincaid. “Viability and germination of seeds and early life history of prairie plants.” Ecological Monographs 5.4 (1935): 408-460.

[6] – http://naeb.brit.org/uses/species/2171/

Joe Foster

Hi - I grew up outdoors in nature - hiking, fishing, hunting. In high school I got my first job at a garden center where I learned to garden and landscape. I've been growing plants from seed and designing native plant gardens for over 10 years. I hope to share some of my knowledge with you! You may have seen some of my videos I create on our YouTube channel, GrowitBuildit (more than 10 million views!). You can find my channel here: https://youtube.com/@growitbuildit Additionally I am a wood worker / DIY enthusiast. I enjoy designing/building projects (with hand tools when I can!). I hope to give you some tips and useful information!

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