KC Gardens

Plant of the Week: Liatris

Liatris Submitted photo

From Dennis Patton:

Okay, time to write about another plant in my Plant of the Week spotlights. Over the past months I have shared some of great plants that everyone should be growing in their gardens. This week I would like to feature another Kansas and Missouri native. This plant is the prairie native Liatris. Or, by its common name Tall Gayfeather, Kansas Gayfeather, Blazing Star or Button Snake Root. No matter what you call it, you should be growing it in your garden.

There are a number of various cultivars of Liatris that are found growing in the wild and a few of these species have worked their way into cultivated gardens. These include Liatris scariosa, Liatris spicata and Liatris pycnostachya. There are differences in each of the species, but for the point of this short article, and to introduce you to the plant, I am going to lump all their qualities together. Sorry plant purists, you can scoff at me if you wish.

Being a native plant, Liatris prefers to grow in full sun but will tolerate some light shade. It does best in well-drained soils and does not like wet feet, especially during the winter months. Basically, it will thrive in most garden settings.

The most common way to introduce this plant into the garden is to purchase a potted plant. The plant does have tuberous roots, and I have had seedlings appear in my own garden. If you have the plant, the tuberous roots can be divided in the early spring. I have seen seeds on the market but it will take a couple of years for the plant to develop and flower.

Gayfeather grows as a spike and will range in height from a few feet to 4 or more feet, depending on the species and culture. The flowers form along this spike and are at their peak usually in July. An interesting fact about this plant is that it flowers differently from most other spike-type plants. Liatris starts flowering at the top of the plant and moves down. Most spiked flowers start at the bottom and bloom up. This one blooms down.

Liatris is a great plant for the middle or back of the border, as the tall colorful purple or white spikes seem to appear out of nowhere in summer, adding interest to the garden during the summer months. The flower stalks are often seen used in commercial floral arrangements and when picking a bouquet from the garden for the table. The spikes can also be dried for arrangements.

I realize that to many this is a perennial garden staple. But for many gardeners this may be their first introduction to one of the best native plants that is right at home in the garden. If you have not grown Liatris be sure to add it to your planting list, as it is sure to please.