What is Liatris?

Anna Harrison
Anna Harrison
Monarch butterflies like liatris.
Monarch butterflies like liatris.

Liatris is a tall, showy plant native to North America and belonging to the Asteraceae family. Plants grow from bulb-like corms, or underground parts of the stem that swell to store food. Flowers appear in mid to late summer in either bright purple or white. Common names for this plant include purple blazing star, gay feather and button snakeroot. They are extremely easy to grow and, thus, perfect for beginning gardeners.

The most common species by far is liatris spicata, which has whorls of tiny, fluffy flowers on tall, sturdy stems. These perennials are long-lasting and make great cut flowers. The leaves are long, glossy and grass-like. These are a favorite of bees, hummingbirds and butterflies, and are good for butterfly gardens. Tiger swallowtails and Monarch butterflies, in particular, favor this plant.

The flowers of the liatris plant are different from other plants with tall spikes of flowers. While most start blooming from the bottom of their flower stalks and progress to the top, liatris flowers start blooming at the top of their stalks and work their way to the bottom. At the end of the season, only the flowers on the very bottom will remain, and the spent tops may be cut off to keep the stalks looking fresh. Liatris plants may grow 4 feet (1.2 m) tall or more.

Liatris will grow just about anywhere, as long as it has plenty of sunshine and the soil has good drainage. Like many other plants, it will not tolerate excessive moisture, and wet winter soil will frequently kill it. It will thrive in average, well-fertilized soil with compost added regularly for nutrition. These plants are very hardy and will survive in the ground through the coldest of winters.

These types of plants can be grown from seed quite easily but require a cold treatment before germinating and may take several weeks to sprout. Plants grown from seed may take a few years to become large enough to flower. It is far easier to buy the bare corms, which rapidly grow into plants and will flower the first year they are planted.

Liatris can also be propagated from cuttings, but this takes time, because plants started this way grow slower than those grown from corms. Propagating liatris by division is easy. Corms that are a few years old can be cut into three or four pieces to start new plants. As long as each piece has an eye and roots it will grow into a new plant.

When planting liatris corms, care should be taken to ensure that they are not planted in the ground upside down, which will keep them from growing. It can be difficult to tell which end of the corm is the bottom, but it usually has just a few tiny roots on it. The corms also need to be planted quite shallowly, just a few inches deep (about 7.6 cm).

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    • Monarch butterflies like liatris.
      Monarch butterflies like liatris.