Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Liatris on the prairie

with 9 comments

On August 24th I showed a decade-old photograph of Liatris mucronata as a foretaste of what September might hold for us in central Texas. The drought has desiccated most fields here, including the one in this picture taken on September 14th, but the Liatris—known as gayfeather and blazing-star—has managed to flower nonetheless. Sometimes this species puts up an undivided flower stalk like the one at the right; at other times a single stalk will rise two or three feet and then suddenly branch out, perhaps densely, as do the left and center stalks here.

The location is the cul-de-sac at the south end of Meister Lane in Round Rock, the same place where (again, a decade ago) I took the picture of the basket-flower that appeared as this blog’s first photograph. The northern border of the lot has expanded from a country road to a superhighway, and one corner of the property has been built on, but the rest of this piece of prairie has somehow so far survived. For its own sake and the sake of photographs yet to be taken there, let’s wish it luck.

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 23, 2011 at 6:00 AM

9 Responses

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  1. I have no liatris, presently, my land is burnt from highway to cliff, but my observations are that liatris is a single stalk, unless it has been cut off or broken during development and then it is a cluster of new shoots around the original stem break point.
    I’ve never read about it, only seen the results of the highway dept cutting when it’s forming. PRAY FOR RAIN, susie the shadetreepotter

    susie fowler

    September 23, 2011 at 6:55 AM

    • Welcome back, Susie! Eve and I have been so concerned for you, but you seem as resilient as the Texas wildflowers. If there’s anything you need, just let us know.

      Your explanation for why some Liatris stalks branch is certainly plausible, especially as it’s based on your own observations. I’ve always come across the occasional branched stalk as a fait accompli, with no clue as to why it’s that way. I wonder if deer are the prime agents (aside from the mowers!). But then I’ve seen branched Liatris in places where there are no deer or mowers, so I wonder if insects might also do enough damage to a stalk to cause it to branch.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 23, 2011 at 7:20 AM

  2. I love liatris, but sadly I can’t get them to grow for me. BTW, I understand the name ‘Gay feather’ however, their other name ‘Blazing Star’ is a mystery to me. How, or why was ever called that? (This is perhaps a rhetorical question 😉
    ~ Lynda


    September 23, 2011 at 7:56 AM

    • I have an idea of what the name blazing-star refers to. If I can find a picture that shows what I have in mind, I’ll post it.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 23, 2011 at 1:29 PM

  3. Steve, I went by the location where the above picture was taken this afternoon. I was amazed at the number of plants scattered around the location. I didn’t find this particular plant with the branched head but there were others. I saw some plants in the distance that appeared to be several feet tall with flowers covering the upper third of the stalks. Unfortunately, I didn’t have my camera with me at the time.

    By the way, I picked up the October issue of Texas Highways last night to look at the articles on Bastrop and Buescher state parks and lo and behold, there in the middle of the magazine, were pictures of flowers with that distinctive blue sky background. A quick look for the photographer’s name revealed this, “Text and photographs by Steven Schwartzman”! Congratulations on the publication.

    Dee Smith

    Dee Smith

    September 24, 2011 at 12:25 AM

    • This is the first time, Dee, that I can recall mentioning a location and having someone go to it shortly afterwards. Yes, that site, dry as it is, has plenty of native plants on it, though there were more years ago, before mowing reduced the growth. The Liatris in my picture was on the eastern side of the property, at the base of an incline that, together with some lying-on-the-ground action, let me have as a background a bit of prairie and a [distinctive] blue sky rather than an apartment complex.

      Thanks for your congratulations on the October issue of Texas Highways. It seems appropriate that my article “The Unexpected Season” came as an unexpected find for you.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 24, 2011 at 6:06 AM

  4. […] the species in the last two posts, this is another one that normally blooms at the end of summer or in the fall, but here it was flowering well before its time. There turned out to be two spikes […]

  5. Your current post on liatris mucronata sent me to my brand-spanking-new copy of Michael John Haddock’s “Wildflowers & Grasses of Kansas” to see if the species I saw there was the same.

    There are three varieties of liatris in Kansas, all of which may be called gayfeather or blazing star, but none of them is the one you show. The liatris punctata is most similar, and that surely is what I saw fluffing away over the fields on my trip.

    One note from Haddock’s commentary for liatris punctata is interesting in this context. He says, “This species was called ‘crow foot’ by some Native American tribes, because crows were often observed eating the roots in the fall. Dotted gayfeather produces a taproot that can reach a depth of 15 ft., making it quite drought resistant.”



    November 2, 2013 at 9:01 AM

    • Happy new book. Jim in Iowa commented on the current post, saying gayfeather grows in his state. That sent me checking and I saw that Liatris mucronata grows no farther north than northeastern Kansas. A book about wildflowers of the Great Plains included Liatris punctata, which made me think that it could be the species Jim has seen. I didn’t know it has such a deep taproot.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 2, 2013 at 10:41 AM

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