Scaly Blazingstar
Liatris squarrosa
Aster family (Asteraceae)

Description: This perennial wildflower is 1–2' tall and unbranched. The central stem is light green, slightly ridged, and glabrous to hairy. The alternate leaves occur along the entire length of the stem in widely spreading pseudo-whorls. The lowest leaves are 4-6" long and about " across, becoming gradually smaller as they ascend the stem. The leaves are medium green, linear in shape, sessile, and glabrous to short-pubescent. Each stem terminates in a spike or narrow raceme of flowerheads about 2-8" long. These flowerheads are relatively few in number, and on rare occasions only a single flowerhead may be produced. Each flat-topped flowerhead is about –1" across, consisting of 15-45 pink disk florets above and overlapping floral bracts (phyllaries) below. There are no ray florets. Individual disk florets are tubular in shape; each of these florets has 5 recurved slender lobes at its apex. Each disk floret has a bifurcated style that is white to light pink; it is often strongly exerted and recurved.

The scaly bracts are green, glabrous to hairy, and relatively large in size; they are either straight and loosely arranged around the base of each flowerhead, or they are strongly recurved. The bracts are lanceolate, broadly lanceolate, or deltoid in shape and their tips are pointed, rather than rounded. The flowerheads are either sessile (or nearly so), or they can have peduncles up to 1" long. At the base of each peduncle (or sessile flowerhead), there is a small leafy bract that is linear in shape. The blooming period occurs from mid- to late summer and lasts about 1 month. The flowerheads bloom from the top to the bottom. With maturation, the disk florets are replaced by small achenes that are bullet-shaped and pubescent; each achene has a tuft of feathery bristles at its apex. The achenes are distributed by the wind to some extent. The root system consists of a globoid corm with fibrous roots below. Sometimes vegetative offsets are produced.

Cultivation: The preference is full sun, dry-mesic to dry conditions, and a barren soil containing rocky material or some sand.

Range & Habitat: The native Scaly Blazingstar is occasional in southern Illinois and absent elsewhere in the state (see Distribution Map). Habitats include hill prairies, limestone or sandstone glades, ledges of sunny cliffs, openings in upland rocky woodlands, and barren savannas. This wildflower is found in high quality natural areas. Occasional wildfires are beneficial because the encroachment of woody vegetation is reduced.

Faunal Assocations: The flowerheads are cross-pollinated primarily by bumblebees, butterflies, and skippers. In general, several insect species feed on Liatris spp. (Blazingstars). These species include: the caterpillars of Schinia sanguinea (Blazingstar Flower Moth), which feed on the florets and developing seeds; the caterpillars of Papaipema beeriana (Blazingstar Borer Moth) and Carmenta anthracipennis (Liatris Borer Moth), which bore through the stems; and the aphids Aphis laciniariae and Aphis craccivora, which suck plant juices. The foliage and flowerheads of Blazingstars are edible to many mammalian herbivores, including cattle, horses, sheep, goats, deer, rabbits, and groundhogs. Where these mammals are abundant, Blazingstar populations usually decline.

Photographic Location: The wildflower garden of the webmaster in Urbana, Illinois.

Comments: Scaly Blazingstar is highly variable across its range and several varieties have been described. Generally, all of these varieties have relatively large floral bracts with pointed tips that are either loosely arranged or recurved along the bottoms of the flowerheads. However, there is considerable variability in the following characteristics: 1) the size of individual flowerheads can be variable with 15-45 (or more) disk florets, 2) the flowerheads can be sessile or they can have short to medium-length peduncles, 3) the leaves and stems can be glabrous to hairy, and 4) the floral bracts that define the base of each flowerhead can be either straight or strongly recurved. Scaly Blazingstar differs from other Liatris spp. (Blazingstars) primarily by the characteristics of its scaly floral bracts, which provide it with a rather odd appearance.