Liatris pycnostachya (Prairie Blazing Star)
|Also known as:||Cat-tail Gayfeather, Thick-spike Gayfeather, Tall Blazing Star|
|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):|
|National distribution (click map to enlarge):|
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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:
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 is a small barbed seed with a tuft of light brown hair to carry it off in the wind.
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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- Prairie Blazing Star plant, near 2 feet tall
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- garden-grown Prairie Blazing Star
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.
Have you seen this plant in Minnesota, or have any other comments about it?
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
on: 2015-09-08 12:43:28
Some growing near the point by the main beach.
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.
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!
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?
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.
on: 2019-08-30 14:02:13
Just saw over 100 plants growing in the ditch and roadside near cr33. Beautiful.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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?
on: 2021-07-05 09:26:14
Jim, horseweed will have densely hairy stems, even when young.
on: 2022-08-19 15:46:28
Really nice examples in the roadside ditches on the glacial sand ridges. Now if the county would just stop mowing them down!