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Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Prairie Spotlight: Liatris

As summer turns to fall, only one hardy plant remains in flower on the Berry Prairie. We’ve had several good frosts already, and every morning is crisp. But Liatris, also known by the colorful names blazing star and gayfeather, hasn’t yet entirely succumbed. 

You might not guess from looking, that Liatris is member of the sunflower family (see Prairie Spotlight:The Asters). But at close range, each puffy, purple “flower” can be seen to be made up of several small flowers, each with five little petals and two long stigma branches. 

Our blazing stars are blazing out, but this one has made seeds. We’re hoping for lots of seedlings come spring!

Seeds of Liatris are called achenes (like all sunflower family seeds). The hairs are called the pappus, and assist in dispersal—just like the pappus on a dandelion seed.

There are several species of Liatris that are found across North America (two just in the Laramie Basin!)—the most common one in Wyoming is L. punctata, aka dotted blazing star (see below). This and several other species are used as ornamentals because of their good looks, their appeal to butterflies, and their tough constitution.  Their long taproots make them very drought tolerant—a trait that was especially adaptive this summer! 

L. punctata in a Missouri prairie

Written by Dorothy Tuthill, Berry Center


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