Cylindrical Blazingstar
Liatris cylindracea
Aster family (Asteraceae)

Description: This herbaceous perennial plant is 1–1' tall and unbranched. The central stem is largely hairless, except for a few hairs near the inflorescence. The leaves are up to 8" long and 1/3" (8 mm.) across, becoming smaller and fewer as they ascend the stem. These leaves appear whorled because of their density, but they actually alternate around the stem.

They are linear, sessile, and hairless, while their margins are smooth. A short spike-like raceme of compound flowers about 2-4" long occurs at the top of the stem. They are pink or purplish pink, and quite showy. A compound flower consists of about 15-25 tubular flowers that are crowded together into a head spanning about 1" across. Each flower has 5 small lobes that curl outward, while a divided style protrudes from the center. This style is white or pinkish white, and rather long and curly. Each compound flower is subtended by green bracts that form a smooth, cylindrical surface about 1" long. The blooming period is mid- to late summer, and lasts about a month. There is no floral scent. The achenes later develop bristly hairs that aid in their dispersal. The root system consists of a corm, which may occasionally produce offsets.

Cultivation: The preference is full sun, poor soil, and dry conditions. This plant often grows on hills or slopes amid rocky material, but it also tolerates loamy soil if the site is well-drained. Drought tolerance is excellent, and foliar disease is not a significant problem at most locations. This plant doesn't compete well against taller, more aggressive plants on fertile soil where there is level ground.

Range & Habitat: The native Cylindrical Blazingstar is a fairly uncommon plant that occurs primarily in northern and western Illinois (see Distribution Map). It is rare or absent in other areas. Habitats include dry upland areas of black soil prairies, hill prairies, openings in rocky upland woods, oak savannas, limestone glades, rocky bluffs and cliffs along major rivers, moist sand flats near Lake Michigan, and shoulders of highways. This plant is typically found in marginal areas that are little disturbed by modern development.

Faunal Associations: The flowers are visited primarily by long-tongued bees, butterflies, skippers, and bee flies. Some short-tongued bees may visit the flowers to collect pollen, but they are not effective pollinators. The caterpillars of the rare Schinia gloriosa (Glorious Flower Moth) feed on the flowers and seed capsules of this and other Liatris spp. Mammalian herbivores readily consume all parts of this plant, including rabbits, groundhogs, deer, and livestock. Prairie and Meadow Voles sometimes eat the corms. An overpopulation of these animals can make the establishment of this plant difficult in some areas.

Photographic Location: The photographs were taken at a wildflower garden near the Red Bison Railroad Prairie in Champaign, Illinois.

Comments: This is another lovely Blazingstar; it is much shorter than most of the others, and tends to bloom earlier. Cylindrical Blazingstar is easy to identify because of the smooth cylindrical surface formed by the green bracts subtending the flowers; this cylindrical surface is longer and larger than what is encountered in other Blazingstars that occur in Illinois. Amerindians would sometimes eat the corms of Blazingstars, although this was considered starvation food.