Douglas Hunt
Douglas Hunt
  • Hometalker
  • New Smyrna Beach, FL

In Praise of the Uncultivated Liatris


Many gardeners know liatris, commonly known as gayfeather or blazing star, through the cultivar “Kobold,” which, I have to admit, is a plant that has never done much for me. Although I’ve tried to like it because it blooms late in the season and is attractive to pollinators, it has always seemed stubby and ungraceful and a challenge to work into a mixed border.
Since I am trying to increase the number of native plants in my garden, however, and because in Florida we are home to 17 species of liatris, I decided to take another look. Lo and behold, I like the parent much better than the offspring!
“Kobold” was bred from Liatris spicata, or dense blazing star. Where “Kobold” tops out at 18 to 24 inches, however, the species soars to 3 or 4 feet and its bloom spikes happily wend themselves through other plants in a border. The blooms may be less compact, but this makes them more graceful to my eye and helps to keep them upright, and does not by one iota diminish this plant's attractiveness to pollinators, particularly native bees.
Liatris spicata occurs naturally through most of the eastern half of the US, from Wisconsin to New York and south to Florida through Louisiana. Perhaps there is a place for it in your garden.
gardening uncultivated liatris, flowers, gardening
Liatris spicata, the parent species of the widely grown cultivar "Kobold." Like all liatris, it blooms from the top down.
gardening uncultivated liatris, flowers, gardening
Here is the cultivar "Kobold." (Photo via Missouri Botantical Garden.)
gardening uncultivated liatris, flowers, gardening
The bloom spikes on Liatris spicata (you can see three here) are less tightly held than in "Kobold," encouraging them to mingle with other plants.
gardening uncultivated liatris, flowers, gardening
Liatris are very attractive to pollinators, particularly native bees. Seen here, a metallic sweat bee.

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4 of 6 comments
  • Barb Rosen
    on Sep 18, 2014

    I like the looks of spicata much better too, Douglas. It plays well with others much more than Kobold does.

    • Douglas Hunt
      on Sep 18, 2014

      @Barb Rosen It is always good to be on the same page as you, Barb!

  • Lee Cunningham Green
    on Sep 21, 2014

    Douglas that is spot on what I am looking for Beautiful Thank you again!

    • Douglas Hunt
      on Sep 22, 2014

      @Lee Cunningham Green Great. You will want to make a visit to Full Moon Natives in Port Orange. Ask for Kevin. He carries both the liatris and the ironweed. (But call ahead to make sure he has them.)

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