Liatris pycnostachya (Prairie Blazing Star)

Plant Info
Also known as: Cat-tail Gayfeather, Thick-spike Gayfeather, Tall Blazing Star
Genus:Liatris
Family:Asteraceae (Aster)
Life cycle:perennial
Origin:native
Habitat:sun; moist soil; fields, prairies, glades
Bloom season:July - September
Plant height:2 to 5 feet
Wetland Indicator Status:GP: FAC MW: FAC NCNE: FAC
MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):Minnesota county distribution map
National distribution (click map to enlarge):National distribution map

Pick an image for a larger view. See the glossary for icon descriptions.

Detailed Information

Flower: Flower shape: 5-petals Cluster type: spike

[photo of flowers] Flowers are in rounded pink to purple heads about 1/3 inch across, densely packed in a thick spike cluster up to a foot long. Heads are made up of 5 to 10 star-shaped disk flowers each with a long, stringy divided style emerging from the center. The bracts are pinkish red and have narrow tips that curl back away from the flowers. A plant has a single spike that blooms from the top down.

Leaves and stem: Leaf attachment: alternate Leaf attachment: basal Leaf type: simple

[photo of leaves] Leaves are very narrow, crowded on the stem and become progressively smaller as they ascend the stem. Near the base of the plant they may be over 12 inches long and ½ inch wide while near the flowers only 1 inch long and less than 1/8 inch wide. Leaves are toothless and may be hairless or finely hairy and slightly rough. The main stem is ridged and hairy to varying degrees.

Fruit: Fruit type: seed with plume

[photo of fruit] Fruit is a small barbed seed with a tuft of light brown hair to carry it off in the wind.

Notes:

There are 5 species of Blazing Star in Minnesota and a relatively easy way to tell similar species apart is by the bracts, which are unique for each species. Prairie Blazing Star has relatively narrow pinkish red bracts with tips that curl back away from the flower head. It also has a much thicker, denser spike than other species and may grow taller than others. It can grow singly or in groups and does exceedingly well in the home garden with sufficient moisture. Monarch butterflies love it.

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More photos

Photos by K. Chayka taken at Long Lake Regional Park, Ramsey County, and at Coon Rapids Dam Regional Park, Anoka County. Photos courtesy Peter M. Dziuk taken at Blaine Preserve SNA and in a private garden in Anoka County.

Comments

Have you seen this plant in Minnesota, or have any other comments about it?

Posted by: Steve - Washington County, Lost Valley SNA
on: 2011-09-23 16:14:30

Found a healthy population of Liatris pycnostachya at Lost Valley SNA yesterday. The plants were on a prairie slope on the new unit purchased just 2 years ago. I have only seen one plant in all the rest of the old 200 acres of the SNA. It was a good call to purchase the new land to add to the existing SNA.

Posted by: Ben - Rochester
on: 2014-07-31 21:40:20

I was hired to mow a community field in a rural residential development. I saw four of these plants and mowed around them. One alone and three together in another spot close by. (I argue with the residents that I should leave the grasses, milkweed, goldenrod and only mow the areas that need it such as thistles and wild parsnip. They don't agree. So I mow the most visible areas and leave patches of milkweed in the less visible areas. ) Ben

Posted by: Keith - Near Faribault, MN
on: 2014-08-12 08:40:12

I photographed prairie blazing star in a ditch along County Road 20 approx. 1 mile northeast of Faribault, MN. This stand of Liatris pycnostachya has been in this same location for over twenty years. This one can be filled in on the County distribution map.

Posted by: K. Chayka
on: 2014-08-12 15:52:38

Keith, the best way to get county records updated is to submit a specimen to the Bell Herbarium, then it's part of the permanent record. Anyone can do it, all you need to do is press a plant and send it in. Specimen collecting guidelines are published on the Bell Herbarium website.

Posted by: sharon - Hibbing, (St. Louis Co.)
on: 2014-08-18 19:50:32

This is the first year this plant has grown in the Hibbing, Mn., area. I've taken some cuttings to save seed for seed bombs next year. This is a pretty plant and striking in color.

Posted by: Linda - Excelsior Beach
on: 2015-09-08 12:43:28

Some growing near the point by the main beach.

Posted by: Jim - Eden Valley MN
on: 2016-07-05 10:24:10

We were in Two Harbors, MN this weeks, & there are purple and pink flowers in the road ditch. We would like to purchase the seeds to plant these flowers in our ditch. Can you give us information as to where to purchase these seeds.

Posted by: K. Chayka
on: 2016-07-05 12:28:57

Jim, what you saw along roadsides on the north shore is not a blazingstar species, but an invasive lupine that was brought in by gardeners, escaped cultivation, and is running amok in NE MN. It is already spreading west and south. Yes, it is pretty, but it is a terrible pest and you do not want it to become worse!

Posted by: Bruce W - Near Twin Valley (NW MN)
on: 2018-01-05 13:20:49

I have taken photos of a variety of blazing star that one of the biologists in our office says is called 'Meadow Blazing Star'. Why is this not listed on your MN Wildflowers site?

Posted by: K. Chayka
on: 2018-01-05 13:21:50

Bruce, common names are notoriously unreliable for researching plant information (e.g. everything that blooms in May has been called a mayflower by someone!) so we recommend using Latin names. We had never referred to L. linguistylis as meadow blazingstar before now so it wasn't on the list.

Posted by: Jodi - Paynesville
on: 2019-08-30 14:02:13

Just saw over 100 plants growing in the ditch and roadside near cr33. Beautiful.

Posted by: Jake Smith - Northfield
on: 2020-07-27 20:02:15

More of a question than a comment. I've noticed many iNaturalist posts of this species that don't fit the typical description of L. pycnostachya, i.e. reflexed phyllaries, but instead glabrous, appressed phyllaries, resembling your 6th photo. These posts are usually from someone's private yard, but not always. Do you know if this is something the native nursery trade is selecting for?

Posted by: K. Chayka
on: 2020-07-28 02:09:09

Jake, cultivars are selected for many different characteristics, but probably not on whether phyllaries are appressed or reflexed.

Posted by: Liz - Lake County - Two Harbors
on: 2020-09-01 11:23:21

Observed a dozen or so in a roadside ditch along Old Northshore Road in Larsmont. They are scattered among Purple Loosestrife plants that the county is managing.

Posted by: Casey vanderBent - Lake Saint Croix Beach
on: 2020-09-04 17:58:18

Pretty sure we found this growing along the highway nearby, for the first time. Definitely liatris. Pretty sure prairie.

Posted by: Joe
on: 2020-10-26 12:10:07

First I would like to commend you on developing such a wonderful and useful website I use it often and have donated to the cause.I have a 10 acre native planting that I have been adding native wildflower seeds to.My wife has a cultivated variety of Prairie Blazing Star in her perennial garden that she purchased from a local garden center.Could I add seed from this plant or would it be better not to.Thank you in advance and keep up the good work!

Posted by: K. Chayka
on: 2020-10-26 12:32:20

Joe, the limited research that's been done on the value of native cultivars (i.e. nativars) to pollinators and wildlife points to them being generally less desirable than straight species, though there have been one or two exceptions. Also, garden centers (especially box stores) tend to sell plants that have been treated with pesticides that can persist in the plant and harm pollinators. So my suggestion is that you research what exactly was sold to your wife and don't use seed that may be questionable.

Posted by: Jim Hofmann - Stearns County
on: 2021-07-04 18:02:34

I have trouble distingishing prairie blazing star from horse weed when in the early growth stage. Can you give me some pointers?

Posted by: K. Chayka
on: 2021-07-05 09:26:14

Jim, horseweed will have densely hairy stems, even when young.

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