Prairie Blazing Star found on Brooks/Lease Prairie near my home in northeast Iowa.
Liatris pycnostachya (Prairie Blazing Star)
Plant Info Also known as: Cat-tail Gayfeather, Thick-spike Gayfeather, Tall Blazing Star
Family: Asteraceae (Aster)
Life cycle: perennial
Habitat: sun; moist soil; fields, prairies, glades
Bloom season: summer
Plant height: 2 to 5 feet
Flower: 5-petals spike
Flowers are in rounded pink to purple heads about 1/3 inch across, densely packed in a thick spike cluster up to a foot long. Heads are made up of 5 to 10 star-shaped disk flowers each with 2 long styles emerging from the center. The bracts are pinkish red and have narrow tips that curl back away from the flowers. One plant has a single spike that blooms from the top down.
Leaves and stem: alternate simple
Leaves are very narrow, crowded on the stem and become progressively smaller as they ascend the stem. Near the base of the plant they may be over 12 inches long and ½ inch wide while near the flowers only 1 inch long and less than 1/8 inch wide. Leaves are toothless and may be hairless or finely hairy and slightly rough. The main stem is ridged and hairy to varying degrees.
Fruit is a small barbed seed with a tuft of hair to carry it off in the wind.
There are 5 species of Blazing Star all with similar flowers and a good way to tell them apart is by the bracts, which is unique for each species. Prairie Blazing Star has relatively narrow pinkish red bracts with tips that curl back away from the flower head. It also has a thicker spike than other varieties and may grow taller than others. It can grow singly or in small groups.