Stupendous Liatris

You may be aware of the spiked gayfeather that graces florist bouquets, but this is just the beginning of all Liatris has to offer.  People unfamiliar with the plant are often surprised to find out it is a native.  Nothing beats the intense purple color of flower spikes that manage to hold themselves up without taking a nosedive into the soil during rainfall and heavy winds.

Did I mention it is a terrific pollinator plant?  It is! Liatris is pollinated by monarch butterflies, skippers and native bees like bumblebees, leaf-cutter bees, ground nesting bees, green metallic bees and miner bees, not to mention the nonnative honeybee.

Besides the spiked gayfeather (Liatris spicata) of florist bouquets, there is the rough blazing star, Liatris aspera, that does well in dry sandy soils; the large-headed liatris, Liatris ligulistylis, reaching 40 inches in height and is the 2017 Great Plants for the Great Plains perennial of the year; the tiny-headed liatris, Liatris microcephala, which forms a neat clump only 18 inches tall; and the thickspike gayfeather, Liatris pycnostachya with rosy flowers at 60 inches tall!

All liatris need a location of 6 or more hours of uninterrupted sunlight daily. Newly-planted plants will need even moisture levels during the first growing season of establishment but after this, leave the watering to what nature provides. Amend the soil with compost to ensure good water drainage.

If you’re looking for wow power, pair the purple flowers of liatris with the orange flowers of butterfly milkweed, Asclepias tuberosa.  Not only do they bloom at the same time, their care needs are similar and the pollinators will appreciate having two food sources next to each other!

Kathleen Cue
Horticulture Program Coordinator at Nebraska Extension

Kathleen serves as a Horticulture Program Coordinator. She educates people on making smart plant choices to reduce use of fertilizers and pesticides in their landscape which has a positive impact on air, water, soil and environmental quality, property values and people’s pocketbooks. She provides leadership and coordination of the NE Extension in Douglas-Sarpy Counties Master Gardener volunteer programs: the Master Gardener Speakers Bureau, and “Ask the Master Gardener” Consultations.


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