Liatris or Blazing Star is a native prarie plant as well as a popular perennial plant in many gardens. It's long lasting blooms make excellent cut flowers, either dried or fresh. In the garden the flowers attract butterflies. The flower spike opens from the top downward. This is unusual because most flower spikes open at the bottom first and work upward.
Liatris perform best in full sun and are quite drought tolerant. They will not tolerate soggy soils, especially in winter. New plants can be produced through seed or by division of the tuberous roots in the spring. Division will be necessary every 4 years or so. Tuberous roots can be cut with a sharp knife. Allow at least one eye to remain on each division.
Liatris species available to gardeners include:
Liatris scariosa. This species grows up to 5 feet tall with flowers available in white, lavender, or rose. It often requires staking in the garden to prevent lodging.
Liatris spicata grows 2 to 3 feet tall with rosy purple flowers. 'Kobold', a cultivar of L. spicata, grows only 18 to 24 inches tall with purple flowers. This plant works well planted at the front of the perennial border.
When drying liatris, harvest flower spikes when one-half to two-thirds of the flowers are open. Remove foliage from the stems and hang them upside down in a dark, dry place. Air circulation is important to prevent molding and speed the drying process which usually takes about three weeks. Liatris can also be dried with desiccants such as silica-gel or sand. Flowers dried with desiccants often have truer blossom color.
Liatris make excellent pest free plants for the summer blooming garden. You may want to try some in your perennial garden.
This article originally appeared in the July 15, 1992 issue, p. 121.