Prairie Blazing Star

Liatris pycnostachya

Description & Overview

Native to Wisconsin, Prairie Blazing Star is the tallest of the blazing stars, reaching 5 feet tall, with tons of bright rose-pink to lilac-purple flowers. Upright and striking, Prairie Blazing Star flowers from top to bottom from July through September, attracting many pollinators and lighting up the garden with bold color.

May also be known as Cat-tail Gay Feather.


Core Characteristics

Mature Height: 2-5 feet
Mature Spread: 1–2 feet
Growth Rate: Moderate
Growth Form: Upright, clump-forming
Light Requirements: Full Sun
Site Requirements: Average, dry-medium, well-drained soil; poor soil, drought, clay soil tolerant
Flower: Rounded, fluffy, rose-pink to lilac-purple
Bloom Period: July – September
Foliage: Grass-like, dark green basal tufts
Fall Color: Leaves turn rich bronze / red
Fruit Notes: Brown achenes with light brown hairs. Seeds distributed by wind.

Suggested Uses:

Prairie Blazing Star brings a trifecta of features to any garden: bright color, texture, and height. Spikes of cylindrical, almost fluffy flower heads are clustered together on tall, coarse, and hairy stems, accentuated by narrow, grassy leaves around the stem.

With their height, Prairie Blazing Star works well as background plants to lower-growing perennials, standing amongst tall ornamental grasses, or planted in drifts for a massive punch of color. Prairie Blazing Star is outstanding in native gardens attracting many pollinators, or in rain gardens as they are one of the few Liatris species that can grow in moist soils. They are also excellent choices for cottage gardens, naturalized areas, and prairies or meadows.

Prairie Blazing Star provides a prominent vertical element to floral arrangements, and because they hold onto their color after blooms are spent, make very nice dried flowers.

Wildlife Value:

A spectacular and important plant for wildlife, Prairie Blazing Star gives back more to nature than they take. Some refer to the Prairie Blazing Star as a ‘poster’ species for planting more natives as they’re much loved by people not only for their showiness but for their ecological value.

A pollinator magnet, you’ll see all manner of creatures stopping by for a snack. Prairie Blazing Star themselves rely on many pollinators to do the cross-pollination work that they cannot do by themselves. Seeking mainly nectar, bumblebees are considered a primary pollinator of the Prairie Blazing Star. Other bees that frequent the flowers include Leafcutter, Long-Horned, small Carpenter, and Sweat Bees – some for both pollen and nectar — a true smorgasbord! A variety of bee flies and syrphid flies also visit for nectar.

Prairie Blazing Star is a larval host plant for the Bleeding Flower Moth and the Blazing Star Borer Moth, both listed by the Wisconsin DNR as of special concern and of greatest need — so plant more Prairie Blazing Star! In addition to hummingbirds, butterflies flock to the bright blooms. Monarchs, Swallowtails, Painted Ladies, Whites, Sulphurs, and Skippers continually stop by throughout the seasons.

Other creatures drawn to Prairie Blazing Star in pursuit of other herbivores include Lady Bugs, Robber flies, mantises, assassin bugs, and crab spiders to name only a few. These critters support the birds that eat all the insects and spiders they can find. Expect to see Chickadees, Goldfinches, Juncos, and Sparrows in fall and winter snacking on the fruit of the Prairie Blazing Star. Foliage is often eaten by rabbits, woodchucks, and deer, while the roots are enjoyed by voles and other mammals. In summary, plant more Prairie Blazing Star!

Maintenance Tips:

Prairie Blazing Star is easy-to-grow, requiring little maintenance, and is tolerant of many conditions including drought, clay or dry soil; however, they do best in full sun in moist conditions. Dry conditions can cause leaf drop while too little sun may twist stems. Space plants 8” to 12” apart to allow enough room to expand over time.

Deadheading after bloom isn’t needed as cutting won’t promote additional flowering. If flowers are left on the plant, the seeds can be a source of food for wild birds. If a tidier look is desirable, cut the bloom spikes off just below the bottom flowers.

Pests/Problems:

No serious insect or disease problems. Crown or root rot may be an issue if placed in poorly drained soils. Staking may be required if they get too tall and begin to flop. Avoid spearing the corm when stakes are inserted.

Leaf Lore:

The origin of the genus name Liatris is unknown; however, the specific epithet pycnostachya means “crowded” in Greek and is believed to refer to the arrangement of the flower heads and leaves on the stem.

Prairie Blazing Star was a valuable and versatile plant to Native Americans. Roots were ground and used as a pain reliever by the Cheyenne to treat fevers, headaches, arthritis, and earaches, as well as measles, mumps, and smallpox. Seeds were shelled and cooked by the Paiute tribe, and the Montana Indians used the leaves as a treatment for upset stomach and as an antiseptic wash.

Companion Plants:

Prairie Blazing Star combines well with other pollinator-friendly perennials including Coneflowers, Tickseed, Phlox, Wild Bergamot, Royal Catchfly, and Black-Eyed Susan.

With heights reaching 4 to 5-feet and a bottlebrush-like texture, Prairie Blazing Star complements finer ornamental grasses such as Fall Blooming Feather Reed Grass, Gracillimus Maiden Grass, or Northwind Switch Grass.




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