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The genus Liatris belongs to the Asteraceae, or aster family, and is composed of around 40 different species. Common names include gayfeather and blazing star. Most of the species are prairie or grassland natives and have stiff, erect, two- to five-foot stems and grasslike leaves. The flowers (technically “flower heads” composed of multiple florets, or tiny flowers) are generally wispy purple, sometimes white, and they cover the top third of the stems in dense clusters from early summer to late fall, depending on the species.

One of the reasons gayfeathers are such popular cut flowers is their unusual mode of blooming. Unlike most plants with a similar inflorescence, they bloom from the top of their flower spikes downward. You can actually cut a good portion off the top of the spike (again about a third) to bring indoors, and the remaining flower heads will continue to open and add color to the garden.

Because of their vertical nature, Liatris species take up minimal space and are suitable for even the smallest garden. They are equally at home in large, established perennial borders, where their thin, tall, airy floral wands create a mesmerizing “pop-up” effect.

Besides getting a visual boost, your garden will also hum delightfully from the various insect pollinators that come to feed on Liatris flowers. Butterflies are particularly attracted to the nectar-rich blossoms. Birds will also pay a visit as they relish the fall-ripening seeds.

Drought tolerance is an especially desirable trait that Liatris species offer. Their water-retentive corms allow them to persist in lean, dry times. And cultivation is very straightforward. Most gayfeathers prefer full sun and well-drained soil of moderate to lean fertility. The majority of the species listed below are hardy from USDA Zones 5 to 9. I have never encountered any insect or disease problems. In fact, I can’t think of a reason not to grow these plants! – by Kim Hawks

Source: Plants & Gardens News


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