This flowers at the tip of this blazing star stalk are fading, those near the center are in full bloom and near the bottom are buds waiting their turns to break into bloom.
Dense blazing star is one of some forty species of blazing stars that can be found growing wild in the eastern U.S. This one has alternate, grasslike leaves that are about 0.8 in (2 cm) wide and as much as 12 in (30 cm) long at the base, getting smaller as you go up the flowering stem. The tiny flowers are borne in heads of 3-15, and the heads are crowded in a dense spike up to 12 in (30 cm) long along the upper part of the stem. There are no ray flowers - only disk flowers and these are tubular, about a quarter inch (.6 cm) long and pinkish purple (occasionally white) in color. Each flower has a protruding style that gives the inflorescence a feathery look, hence the name gayfeather. The flowers open from the top of the stem downward, and this is unlike most other spike-borne flowers.The stem can stand as much as 6 ft (2 m) tall, but it is normally around 3 ft (1 m) tall, and it often falls over from the weight of the inflorescence. When not in flower, the stalkless perennial plant looks like a clump of grass.
Liatris spicata occurs naturally in moist habitats, including pine flatwoods, wet savannas and roadsides, throughout eastern North America. It sometimes occurs in beautiful dense stands on moist road shoulders. Dense blazing star is often grown in the garden, and there are several named cultivars in the trade.
One of the shorter varieties (2 ft high) is in bloom while the larger plants beside it have yet to produce flower stalks.
In this close up view we can see the tubular disk flowers and the unopened buds that are next to bloom beneath them. Click here to download a large version of this image.
Culture Light: The blazing stars do best in full sun. Moisture: Most blazing stars occur in fairly dry habitats, but this one grows in moist habitats and needs a soil that stays moist, benefiting from supplemental watering during dry periods. Hardiness: USDA Zones 3-9. Propagation: Seeds should be sown in autumn. The swollen, cormlike root can be divided. Like most blazing stars, L. spicata often reseeds itself in the garden.
The easy-to-grow dense blazing star is used in meadows, wildflower gardens, mixed borders, flower beds and cutting gardens. It is most attractive in mass plantings. The flowers last a long time, with the plant blooming nearly all of the summer months. Flowers are very attractive to bees and many kinds of butterflies, and no butterfly garden should be without an assortment of blazing stars. Dense blazing star makes a fine, long lasting fresh cut flower, and when dried, it works well in dried arrangements also.
All blazing stars are attractive to butterflies, and ought to be cornerstones in wildflower and butterfly gardens. Among the commercially available cultivars of Liatris spicata are 'Blue Bird', with bluish flowers, 'Floristan Weiss' and 'Snow Queen' with white flowers, and the short statured (to 20 in or 50 cm), dark purple flowered 'Goblin'.