Liatris Spicata 101 – Complete Guide to Blazing Star


Liatris Spicata Blazing Star

If you are looking for a showy purple, drought tolerant, sun-loving, tough perennial native flower – Liatris Spicata (Blazing Star) is for you! I have about 12-16 Blazing Star flowers in my front flower bed that are packed with pollinators during their month long bloom period. After growing this plant for 5 years, I can share all that I’ve learned with you!

In this guide I will cover the following:

All the pictures you see in this post are mine. In addition to the mass of Liatris in our front yard, we also have an additional 5+ plants in our backyard micro-prairie. I’ve grown probably 50-60 Liatris from seed, transplanted corms, divided Liatris…..I’ve done it all, multiple times! Now, let’s dive in!

What is Liatris Spicata?

Liatris Spicata is a perennial wildflower native to North America. Commonly known as Blazing Star or Gayfeather, this flower will grow 3-4′ tall in full sun with well-drained soil. Liatris Spicata will bloom in mid-summer for 4-6 weeks and attract lots of bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds.

I started my large Liatris Spicata patch in the Spring of 2017, and have attracted ridiculous numbers of bees and butterflies ever since! While sitting a few feet away on our front porch we are even treated to hummingbird visits! The tiny little avian friends just scoot in, drink some nectar and are gone in a flash!

Liatris Spicata Reference Table

Scientific NameLiatris Spicata
Common Name(s)Blazing Star, Gayfeather, Dense Blazing Star, Marsh Blazing Star
Native Range, USDA ZoneEastern United States, USDA Zone 3-8
Bloom TimeJuly-August
Bloom Duration, Color3-4 weeks, Pink to Purple
Height3-5′ (0.9m-1.5m)
Spacing / Spread9″-18″ (22 cm-45cm)
Light RequirementsFull sun, Partial Sun
Soil TypesLoam, Clay
MoistureMedium moisture to wet
Fauna Associations / Larval HostsAttracts many types of bees, butterflies, skippers,

Benefits of growing Liatris Spicata

Liatris Spicata is beautiful

For an eye-catching display of uniquely formed flowers, it is hard to beat Liatris Spicata. The tall purple spikes gently blowing in the breeze with dozens of bees and butterflies bouncing between them will catch anyone’s attention. This flower can add lots of curb appeal to your home.

Even when not blooming, the base foliage looks like ornamental grass in the Spring, and the seed heads (stalks) still look great in the Fall.

Bring wildlife to your home with Liatris Spicata!

Liatris Spicata is one of the most bee-friendly plants I grow. It is not uncommon to see 2-4 bees on a single stalk of this flower. They are just packed with pollen and nectar for pollinators.

In addition to lots of bees, you will get a healthy population of butterflies. Everything from small skippers to large Swallowtail and Monarch butterflies. And finally, you will see hummingbirds buzz in and out to enjoy the nectar of Liatris Spicata.

Liatris Spicata really draws in the pollinators.

Liatris Spicata Identification / Characteristics

In general it is easy to identify Liatris Spicata. The tall spikes rising above the grass like foliage is very unique. They can be differentiated as they have the ‘fuzzy’ blooms as opposed to tubular flowers like Penstemon or Salvia.

Stalk

Liatris Spicata Blazing Star Bloom Zoom

The stalk sill be 2-6′ tall [1] (60-150 cm) and light green to purple-green in color. First year plants will not produce a stalk, but second year plants often produce a single blooming stalk. By the 3rd year of life, you can expect 3-6 stalks in a single plant for an impressive display.

Liatris Spicata Leaves

You will notice a grass like clump when the plant emerges in Spring. Leaves of Liatris Spicata start at the base as a clump and become smaller as they go up the stalk. The leaves are alternate, 4-10″ long by 1/4-1/2″ wide.

Liatris Spicata Flower

The stalk will transition from a leaf-covered stalk to a purple staff of flowers that is 6-18″ long. Small flower heads will appear to be completely covering the stalk when in bloom. But in reality are spaced and distributed around the circumference and length of the stalk.

Liatris Seed Head Stalk

The flowerheads will have pink to purple color, and will start blooming at the top of the stalk and move in a downwards direction over 3-4 weeks. Each flowerhead is about 3/4″ diameter (9 mm). This type of flower, with it’s almost hairy or stingy appearance seems to consistently be one of the most attractive flowers for pollinators.

After blooming the flower heads will dry out and have seeds form. The seeds will be small and cylindrical in shape, with a feather tail similar to a bad-mitten birdy. You can easily save seed from these, but it will take some special storage to ensure viability. I’ve written a detailed guide on saving seed from Liatris here.

Liatris Spicata Root

The roots of Liatris Spicata are actually a bulb like item called a corm. These are the primary root mass, and will increase in size each year. There will be small fibrous roots that emanate from these corms.

The amount of flowering from a corm is heavily influenced on when they were initially planted for the first year. Subsequent years the amount and timing of flowering is primarily dependent on the soil temperatures. So, this will influence the amount of stalks available for cut flowers to put in vases. [2]

The lack of a taproot make Liatris a great flower to grow in a container.

Grow and Care for Liatris Spicata

As a native plant, Liatris Spicata has evolved and adapted to certain growing conditions in Eastern North America. As such, it is generally disease resistant, as well as hardy and tough.

Sunlight Requirements Liatris Spicata

Liatris Spicata will grow best in full sun. It can also grow in partial sun, but it will not grow as tall or be as showy. Make sure you plant Liatris Spicata where it will receive at least 4 hours of sunlight per day.

Moisture Requirements for Liatris

As one of Liatris Spicata’s common names would indicate (Marsh Blazing Star), it is often found in moist soil. But, you still want that soil to drain well!

So, it is best to grow in medium to moist soil. During hot summertime droughts, you will need to water every few days.

But – Liatris Spicata is suitable for a rain garden. Studies have shown that occasional flooding

Soil Type for Liatris Spicata

Liatris Spicata can grow in a variety of soils, from sand to loam to clay. I grow my Liatris in over-compacted sandy loam, and it does great. But, the more organic matter present in the soil the healthier it will be. So, if you have very sandy soil, consider adding significant amounts of compost to increase moisture retention.

*Note – if you are unsure of your soil type, you could do a quick ‘ribbon‘ test or a more precise mason jar test.

General Care of Liatris Spicata

If you plant Liatris Spicata in growing conditions that it prefers, you can expect a healthy and thriving plant. There is no real ‘special care’ for Liatris – just put it in an environment where it would naturally grow. Then, you can expect beautiful flowers year after year.

Shoots will begin to emerge from Liatris in the Spring when the soil temperatures reach ~50 F (10C). [3]

Dividing Liatris

The corm mass will increase in size each year, and should be divided by the 5th year (in general). For a detailed step by step guide on how and when to divide Liatris, click here.

Deadheading Liatris Spicata

There are many internet sources out there with information on how to deadhead Liatris, and the results you can expect. I don’t think that any of the writers of those articles has actually attempted to deadhead Liatris Spicata. I’ve done so several years, and always with disappointing results.

To deadhead Liatris Spicata just cut off the stalk below the flower when it is just about finished blooming. Then, a few weeks later you will have some new flower heads grow just below the cut you previously made.

In the process, you will loose the aesthetic appeal the tall spike provides in the fall. And only gain a few small blooms. That is also to say the birds will lose a source of seed. So, in my opinion, don’t deadhead Liatris. Let it bloom and form seed. You don’t get much benefit from deadheading Liatris Spicata.

Self-Seeding

Liatris Spicata will spread via self-seedling to some degree in a mulched, manicured flower bed. In areas with tougher competition, this will be less likely to occur.

How to grow Liatris Spicata from Seed

Growing Liatris Spicata from seed is very easy, as long as you cold stratify or winter sow the seed. You must cold stratify or wintersow Liatris seed. The germination rate will be extremely low if you do not provide for any cold treatment. [4]

Liatris Seedling blazing star gayfeather
Liatris Spicata Seedling

Also, if you saved your own seed – make sure you stored in a sealed container in the refrigerator.

To germinate and grow Liatris Spicata from seed:

  1. Fill a container or pot with moist potting mix, leaving 1/2″ gap at the top.
  2. Sprinkle 3-5 seeds on top of the soil.
  3. Cover the seed with a light dusting of moist potting soil
  4. Sprinkle several more seeds on each cell or pot.
  5. Then winter sow the seed in a location that receives morning sun and afternoon shade
  6. Germination will occur in early Spring, as temperatures begin warming up

Purchase Seed

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.)

How long will it take Liatris Spicata to bloom when grown from seed?

Liatris Spicata should bloom in it’s second year after being grown from seed. The first year it will be generating it’s root mass, known as a corm.

How to plant Liatris Spicata corms

To plant Liatris Corms, you dig a small hole about 3 ” deep. Plant the corm in the hole, with the stringy fibrous roots facing down. Back-fill the hole, so that the top of the corm is about 1″ deep. Amend with compost while back-filling.

A small Liatris Corm, broken off from the main clump

Wildlife, pests, and diseases of Liatris Spicata

Faunal Associations

Since Liatris Spicata is native, it plays a valuable part in the ecological food chain. This is a great plant for attracting wildlife.

Liatris Spicata is good for polinators

Liatris Spicata will attract numerous bees, including bumblebees, leaf-cutters, and other api species. It is not uncommon for me to see 3-4 bumblebees on a single stalk when blooming.

In addition to bees, Liatris Spicata is great for attracting butterflies to your garden. Everything from small skippers to large Tiger Swallowtails and Monarchs can be seen feeding on the nectar.

And finally, I regularly see hummingbirds swoop in and out of my Liatris patches. Hummingbirds are always a treat to watch.

Liatris Spicata attracts birds

When the Liatris Spicata seed heads form on the stalk, you can expect to see finches and other small birds arriving. They enjoy picking the seed out for a snack.

Liatris Spicata Blazing Star Goldfinch
Goldfinch on Liatris Spicata

Voles

The bulb-like corms make for an attractive food source for voles. If you have a healthy population of voles and other root-eating animals, you may wish to consider growing your Liatris in containers.

Deer and Rabbits

Most internet sources will tell you that Liatris Spicata is considered ‘deer and rabbit resistant’. I have personally found deer and rabbits to brows young foliage in the Spring, and completely devour seedlings. Don’t be surprised if like me, your plants get nibbled or devoured.

So, based on my experience I would strongly recommend you protect Liatris Spicata from deer and rabbits until they are well established, and have started sending up the flower stalk. I use Liquid Fence to protect my flowers, and it really does work.

I have been using Liquid Fence since 2013 with great results. But you need to keep up with it. You can find a link to the concentrate at our RECOMMENDED PRODUCTS PAGE page, which is the most economical way to purchase.

Disease and Pests

There are no major disease problems with Liatris Spicata. As it evolved in Eastern North America it has adapted itself it be disease resistant. I’ve never seen any problems on mine, and I’ve grown dozens of these plants for years.

The biggest pest threat is deer, rabbits, groundhogs, and voles. So, control your populations or use appropriate deterrents!

Where can you buy Liatris Spicata

Liatris Spicata can be bought several ways. Many garden centers are starting to carry different varieties of Liatris Spicata. However, make sure you read the label and try to buy the true native species! Look for the latin name, Liatris Spicata!

It has been documented time and time again that cultivars, nativars, and hybrids do not benefit pollinators as much as the true native species.

In addition to plants, you can often buy the bare root corms! This is a great, effective, and cheap way to get a decent Liatris patch started. You can generally buy 15 corms for around $10. Check out the link from our recommended products page!

Uses of Liatris Spicata

Garden Uses

Liatris Spicata is versatile in that it can look great in a formal flower bed, border, wildflower garden, meadow or micro-prairie. The purple color blends with most other flowers very nicely. And it’s showiness is guaranteed to draw interest.

In early Spring, the grass like foliage is attractive in that it really does resemble an ornamental grass. The blooms are stunning. And during Autumn the fuzzy seed-covered stalks make good decor to go with pumpkins.

At my house, we have about 12-15 Liatris Spicata plants in our primary front flower bed. In our backyard micro-prairie, we have an additional 4-5 scattered throughout.

Liatris Spicata Companion Plants

The lovely purple color of Liatris contrasts best with yellow, pink, blue, or red. But – you need the companions to bloom at the same time! So, with that in mind below are some good suggestions for companion planting

Native American Uses

The Cherokee tribe had 8 different medicinal uses for Liatris Spicata. It had so many documented uses that you could almost call it a ‘cure-all’ plant. Some of the uses included the following:

  • Pain killer
  • Decongestant
  • Digestive / Gas pain
  • Diuretic
  • Used to treat Dropsy
  • Stimulant

The Menominee tribe used a concoction of the root to treat heart ailments.

References:

[1] – Environment Canada. 2014. Recovery Strategy for the Dense Blazing Star (Liatris spicata) in
Canada. Species at Risk Act Recovery Strategy Series. Environment Canada, Ottawa. vi + 28 pp.

[2] – Armitage, A.M., & Laushman, J.M. (1990). Planting Date, In-ground Time Affect Cut Flowers of Acidanthera, Anemone, Allium, Brodiaea, and Crocosmia, HortScience HortSci, 25(10), 1236-1238. Retrieved Feb 6, 2021, from https://journals.ashs.org/hortsci/view/journals/hortsci/25/10/article-p1236.xml

[3] – Espinosa, I., Healy, W., & Roh, M. (1991). The Role of Temperature and Photoperiod on Liatris spicata Shoot Development, Journal of the American Society for Horticultural Science jashs, 116(1), 27-29. Retrieved Feb 6, 2021, from https://journals.ashs.org/jashs/view/journals/jashs/116/1/article-p27.xml

[4] – Barak, RS, Lichtenberger, T, Wellman‐Houde, A, Kramer, AT, Larkin, DJ. Cracking the case: Seed traits and phylogeny predict time to germination in prairie restoration species. Ecol Evol. 2018; 8: 5551– 5562. https://doi.org/10.1002/ece3.4083

[5] – Seung Won Han, Jae Soon Kim, Myung Il Jeong, Growth and Physological Characteristics of Seven Garden Perennials to Flooding, Flower Research Journal, Korean Society for Floricultural Science, September 2020, http://db.koreascholar.com/article.aspx?code=400622 Retrieved 06FEB2021.

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 six years. I hope to share some of my knowledge with you! 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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