Monday, December 14, 2009

Graceful Blazing Star - Liatris gracilis

Graceful blazing star (Liatris gracilis) is one of the most widely distributed blazing stars in Florida and one of the easiest to maintain in a home landscape setting.  In Florida, it occurs in a wide variety of well-drained upland habitats including scrub, sandhill, flatwoods, and open deciduous woodlands.  This is a southern species and occurs outside Florida only in states in the Southeastern Coastal Plain.
Like other members of this genus, graceful blazing star is deciduous.  By early spring, the basal rosette of thin, whorled leaves are well established.  These leaves also are covered by noticeable hairs.  All parts of this species are "pilose" in this way.
Flowering occurs in the fall; generally October through early November.  The flower stalks are taller than most and often reach 4-5 feet.  Individual flowers are quite small, but the number of flower buds is quite numerous.  Each bud is held well away from the main flower stalk by distinct bud stalks - correctly known as pedicles.  Because of this, the flowering stalk during the peak of blooming is quite broad and showy. 
Graceful blazing star is adaptable to a wider variety of landscape settings than most of Florida's species.  Though it is exceptionally drought tolerant, it will persist in areas that are seasonally more moist as long as this condition doesn't persist for too many days in succession.  Because of its adaptablity and widespread distribution, graceful blazing star is one of the most commonly available blazing stars commercially.  Use this species in a mixed wildflower setting, but use it towards the back of a planting area and mix it with species of wildlfowers and native grasses that can help to hold its tall flower stalk upright.  Of all of our native blazing stars, graceful blazing star is the most prone to falling over.  When this occurs, its flower stalk twists and meanders through the understory before turning upright once again.  Use a plant stake, avoid soils that are too rich, and plant it next to sturdier neighbors to help avoid this from occuring.

Chapman's Blazing Star - Liatris chapmanii

Chapman's blazing star (Liatris chapmanii) is named for one of the Southeast's best known early botanists, A.W. Chapman.  This is another blazing star restricted to the deep sandy soils of Florida and the states immediately adjacent to us - Georgia and Alabama.  In Florida, it occurs nearly statewide in scrub and sandhill habitats.
Chapman's blazing star is rather unique in several ways.  It produces "normal-sized" leaves along the flower stalk - well above the basal rosette, and it produces flowers below the top of the flower stalk into the area where these leaves occur.  For this reason, it is quite easy to distingush from other members of this genus.
Like other members of this genus, Chapman's blazing star is deciduous and makes its appearance in early spring.  The leaves are slightly curved, thin, and about 2-3 inches long.  The basal rosette is dense and has a somewhat whorled appearance.
Blooming begins a bit earlier than many other members of this genus.  Most specimens begin flowering in September and are finished by October. The flower stalks are also a bit shorter and stouter.  Most specimens do not get taller than 3 feet, though they may occassionally reach 4 feet or taller.  The flower buds are densely clustered on the flower stalk and held tightly to it.  Individual flowers are a bright lavender and each bud contains about a half dozen individual flowers. 
Chapman's blazing star is a very attractive addition to a mixed wildflower planting, but it absolutely requires well-drained sandy soils to persist.  Soils that hold water around the corm for too long will cause the corms to rot.  Give this species plenty of sunlight also.  Because it is often a bit shorter than other members of this genus and because it blooms earlier, it is best used with other blazing stars and planted in the mid-section of the planting area.  Good companion blazing stars are graceful, elegant, clusterleaf, and scrub blazing star. 
Chapman's blazing star is only infrequently offered for sale by member nurseries of AFNN.  It is difficult to maintain in a pot under normal growing practices because it rots if kept too moist.  We have been propagating this wonderful species for several years now at Hawthorn Hill and normally have extra specimens for sale.  Please inquire if you are interested.

Clusterleaf Blazing Star - Liatris laevigata

Clusterleaf blazing star (Liatris laevigata) is found nearly statewide in Florida and in portions of Georgia.  Like many other Florida blazing stars, this species occurs only in exceptionally well-drained sandy soils - conditions most commonly found in scrub and sandhill habitats.  Taxonomists sometimes combine this species as a variety of Liatris tenuifolia, but the two are quite distinct and seem to deserve separate species status.  Of the two, clusterleaf blazing star has the narrowest range in North America, but is more widely distributed in Florida.
The top photograph shows the difference in leaf form between L. laevigata and L. tenuifolia.  Clusterleaf blazing star is pictured on the left and has leaves that are decidedly wider and "coarser" than scrub blazing star.  Sometimes, these leaves persist through the winter, but most commonly they are deciduous.  In the early spring, they emerge and soon a dense basal rosette is formed.
Clusterleaf blazing star begins to send its flower stalk upward in mid-summer.  Eventually, it reaches 3-4 feet.  In our gardens at Hawthorn Hill where we grow both species side by side, clusterleaf blazing star's flower stalks tend to be several inches taller than scrub blazing star, the flower buds tend to be larger and held at more of an angle away from the stalk, and the flowers tend to be a bit larger.  As its sometimes-used Latin name implies (L. tenuifolia var. quadriflora), the buds often are composed of four flowers, but as the photographs above demonstrate, this is not always the case.  Flowering occurs in late fall - late October to early November.
Clusterleaf blazing star is showier than scrub blazing star, but it is not quite the same splash of color as many of our other species.  But, because it is often in bloom a bit later than the others, it is a wonderful way to extend the season.  Use this species in a mixed wildflower setting, but only in sites with exceptionally well-drained soils.  Cluster individual plants into groups of five or more and use them in the front half of the planting area.  I like to combine this species with Chapman's, graceful, elegant, and scrub blazing star as all of these species have similar growing requirements and often occur together in nature. 
Clusterleaf blazing star is sometimes available from nurseries associated with AFNN, the Association of Florida Native Nurseries, but is often listed as L. tenuifolia.  Because of this, it may be necessary to ask further as to which "L. tenuifolia" is being offered.  Sometimes, they are even mixed together on the same bench and labeled similarly.
We have grown both species together in our landscape at Hawthorn Hill for years and they remain true and distinct.  And, I have never seen forms in the wild that were indistinct. For this reason, I have chosen to use the taxonomy that clearly separates them.  I suspect that someday, everyone else will do the same - but until that time, make sure you get what you ask for.

Scrub Blazing Star - Liatris tenuifolia

Scrub blazing star (Liatris tenuifolia) is sometimes combined taxonomically with clusterleaf blazing star (L. laevigata).  Taxonomosts that lump the two refer to the former as L. tenuifolia var. tenuifolia and the latter as L. tenuifolia var. quadriflora.  I have chosen to follow the taxonomists who split them, as they are quite distinct and I have never seen forms that seem to be somewhere in between.  In the upper photo, the narrower basal leaves of scrub blazing star contrast sharply with the wider leaves of clusterleaf blazing star.  In the lower photo several specimens of scrub blazing star are blooming to the right of a specimen of clusterleaf blazing star.  These photos were taken in my gardens at Hawthorn Hill where I grow both species side by side.  Over the years, the seed of both has remained true to species.
Scrub blazing star is found throughout much of Florida and in states immediately adjacent to us.  As its name implies, this is a species that occurs only in the most well-drained sandy soils of Florida's scrub community.  In these areas, it is relatively common and abundant. 
Scrub blazing star is deciduous.  In the early spring, it sends out its extremely narrow leaves that resemble pine needles - or the leaves of wiregrass.  For much of the spring and early summer, it exists as a basal rosette of these needle-like leaves and is difficult to distinguish from all of the other plants surrounding it.  Then, in mid-summer, it begins the process of sending its wand-like flower stalk upward.
Scrub blazing star has an extremely narrow flower stalk and the small flower buds are held close to it.  Eventually, the stalk reaches a height of 2 1/2-4 feet.  Blooming occurs in late fall, usually a week or more later than other species, like L. chapmanii or L. ohlingerae, that may occur in the same area.  This is one of the least showy of our species.  The rich lavender flowers are attractive, but quite small. 
Scrub blazing star requires exceptionally well-drained soil to prosper.  If these conditions can be provided, it makes a wonderful addition to a mixed wildflower planting.  Group five or more specimens together, 6 inches apart so the individual plants do not "get lost" and plant them near the front half of the planting area.  Mix it with other mid-sized to smaller late-fall blooming wildflowers such as grassleaf goldenaster (Pityopsis graminifolia).
Scrub blazing star is often available from nurseries associated with the Association of Florida Native Nurseries (AFNN).  We have grown it in our gardens at Hawthorn Hill from the beginning, but do not intend to propagate it ourselves.