Liatris scariosa nieuwlandii
Aster family (Asteraceae)
Description: This perennial wildflower is 2½–5' tall, erect, and unbranched. The central stem is medium green, glabrous to short-pubescent, and terete. Numerous alternate leaves are arranged densely around the stem; they are widely spreading. The lower leaves are up to 12" long and 1½" across; they are broadly linear to elliptic oblong in shape. The middle to upper leaves become gradually smaller as they ascend the stem, becoming linear in shape and as little as 3" long. All of the leaves are medium green and their margins are smooth; they are usually hairless, except for their margins, which are often slightly ciliate. The lower leaves usually have petioles, while the middle to upper leaves are sessile. The inflorescence consists of a narrow raceme of flowerheads up to 2' long. The flowerheads begin to bloom from the top of inflorescence, then they gradually bloom below until the bottom is reached. Each inflorescence has 10-40 flowerheads. Each flowerhead is located at the apex of an ascending stalk (peduncle) about ½–3½" long; a stalk may branch to produce 2-3 flowerheads, but this is atypical. At the base of each stalk, there is a sessile leafy bract that resembles the upper leaves. Both the central stalk and lateral stalks of the raceme are short-pubescent.
Individual flowerheads span 1-2" across, consisting of 25-80 pink disk florets and no ray florets. The tubular disk florets have 5 spreading narrow lobes. The bifurcated styles are light pink and strongly exerted from the disk florets, providing the flowerheads with a shaggy appearance. At the base of each flowerhead, there are scale-like floral bracts (phyllaries) that are arranged together in about 5 overlapping series; they are ascending to slightly spreading, but neither recurved nor appressed. Individual floral bracts are oval or obovate in shape and ciliate along their margins; they become dark reddish purple when their flowerheads bloom, otherwise they are dull green. The blooming period occurs from late summer to mid-fall and lasts about 1½ months. The disk florets are replaced by bullet-shaped achenes, which have tufts of barbed tawny hairs. The root system consists of a bulb-like corm with fibrous roots. Vegetative offsets are produced from new corms.
Cultivation: This wildflower can adapt to full or partial sun, moist or mesic conditions, and different kinds of soil, including those that are loamy, sandy, or gravelly. It can tolerate a little more shade than other Liatris spp. (Blazingstars). In the garden, individual plants can become top-heavy during the blooming period and topple over, unless they are tied to stakes.
Range & Habitat: The native Savanna Blazingstar is found in west-central and NE Illinois, where it is rare; in other sections of the state, it is absent (see Distribution Map). This species is state-listed as 'threatened.' Habitats consist of oak savannas and prairies; sometimes these habitats are sandy. In other states, this species is found in rocky glades and savannas with pine trees. Savanna Blazingstar is found in high quality habitats. It is endemic to the Midwest.
Faunal Associations: The flowerheads attract butterflies and skippers primarily, especially Monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus). The caterpillars of some oligophagous moths are known to feed on Liatris spp. (Blazingstars). These species include Schinia sanguinea (Bleeding Flower Moth), Schinia gloriosa (Glorious Flower Moth), Papaipema beeriana (Blazingstar Borer Moth), and Carmenta anthracipennis (Liatris Borer Moth). There is also an oligophagous aphid, Aphis laciniariae, that sucks juices from Blazingstars. The foliage is readily eaten by deer, rabbits, groundhogs, cattle, and other mammalian herbivores. Voles sometimes feed on the corms. This wildflower benefits from occasional wildfires as this reduces the encroachment of woody vegetation.
Photographic Location: The wildflower garden of the webmaster in Urbana, Illinois.
Comments: This blazingstar can become quite tall and it produces hefty flowerheads that are larger than those of other Liatris spp. (Blazingstars). It is a very beautiful plant that should be cultivated more often. Sometimes Savanna Blazingstar is considered a distinct species, in which case it is referred to as Liatris nieuwlandii. The typical variety of Liatris scariosa (Northern Blazingstar), is found in areas to the east of Illinois, and there is another variety that is found in New England. Savanna Blazingstar can be distinguished from Liatris aspera (Rough Blazingstar) by the ascending stalks of its flowerheads; the flowerheads of Rough Blazingstar are sessile (or nearly so) and they have fewer disk florets.