Rough Blazing Star (Rough Gayfeather)

Liatris aspera

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Closeup side view of rough blazing star flowerhead
Rough blazing star is an easy-to-identify Missouri liatris. The flowerheads are spaced out along the stalk and not crowded together, and the bracts at the base of the flowerheads are swollen or pouchlike.
Edible
Family

Asteraceae (daisies)

Description

Rough blazing star is an upright perennial with an unbranched stalk. Flowerheads many, evenly spaced along a spikelike upper stalk, rose-purple. Involucral bracts (overlapping leaflike structures at the base of each flowerhead) rounded, somewhat spreading, appearing pouched or swollen, mostly with broad, thin, pale to transparent margins that look unevenly torn and are sometimes strongly purplish-tinged. Heads have 14–30 disk florets. Blooms August–November. Leaves alternate, the lowest to 15 inches long with a petiole, the upper ones much shorter, becoming sessile and narrowly lance-shaped. Rootstock a round corm.

Similar species: There are 9 species of Liatris recorded for Missouri, and many of these have been known to hybridize where they occur in the same vicinity. To distinguish between the various species and hybrids, one should be prepared to note details of the flower structure, such as the involucral bracts described above.

Size

Height: 2–3 feet; taller under favorable conditions.

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Photo of rough blazing star showing flowerheads at tip of stalk
Rough Blazing Star (Rough Gayfeather)
Rough blazing star is fairly common and scattered nearly statewide. Note the rounded, pouched, purple-edged bracts at the base of the flowerhead.

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Photo of blooming rough blazing star plants in a glade
Rough Blazing Star (Rough Gayfeather) (In Glade)
Blazing stars are an important (and showy) part of the complex community of plants in Missouri’s tallgrass prairie and glade habitats. Rough blazing star can be found nearly statewide.

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Inflorescence of a rough blazing star plant
Rough Blazing Star Floral Spike
Like other liatrises, rough blazing star has its flowerheads arranged along a single, upright stalk. But in rough blazing star, the flowerheads are separated enough that you can easily see the stalk between them.

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Photo of rough blazing star stalk closeup showing side view of flowerheads
Rough Blazing Star (Rough Gayfeather)
Rough blazing star, Liatris aspera, can be told from other Missouri blazing stars by its involucral bracts—the overlapping leaflike structures at the base of each flowerhead. In this species, they are rounded, somewhat spreading, appearing pouched or swollen, and mostly with broad, thin, pale to transparent margins that are sometimes strongly purpl

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Photo of rough blazing star flowerhead closeup showing individual florets
Rough Blazing Star (Rough Gayfeather) (Closeup)
Rough blazing star and all blazing stars are members of the sunflower family and thus have numerous tiny flowers grouped together into a flowerhead. In this closeup, you can see the individual purple flowers in a single flowerhead.

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Photo of rough blazing star flowerheads prior to blooming
Rough Blazing Star Before Blooming
Rough blazing star flowerheads, before opening, are rounded, with the overlapping involucral bracts prominent. The stalk is visible between the separate flowerheads.

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Photo of a rough blazing star flowerhead during seed formation
Rough Blazing Star Mature Flowerhead
The fruits of rough blazing star form at the base of the flowerheads; each fruit is tipped with a set of bristles.

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Male sachem nectaring on a rough liatris
Sachem Skipper Male on Rough Blazing Star
On male sachems, the hindwing underside’s central light orange patch comes to a V-shaped point toward the trailing edge.

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Photo of a northern crab spider on rough blazing star flowerhead.
Northern Crab Spider on Rough Blazing Star
A yellow northern crab spider, Mecaphesa asperata, waits for prey on a rough blazing star flowerhead.

Rough Blazing Star with hummingbird

A hummingbird is captured in midflight feeding from a tall, spiky plant with compact pink flowers. Some of the flowers on the stalk have opened into wispy violet flowers.
A hummingbird feeds from a Rough Blazing Star in Ballwin, MO.
Habitat and conservation

Occurs in upland and loess hill prairies, glades, exposed ledges and tops of bluffs, savannas, openings of upland forests, and rarely banks of streams; also pastures, railroads, and roadsides.

image of Rough Blazing Star Rough Gayfeather distribution map
Distribution in Missouri

Scattered nearly statewide, although apparently absent from the Southeast Lowlands. Cultivated potentially statewide.

Human connections

Liatris species are some of the showier plants used in native wildflower gardens and many are available at native plant nurseries. One species, L. spicata, is commonly found at garden centers and is often used in arrangements by florists. Liatris have a long history of medicinal usage, too.

Ecosystem connections

A wide variety of insects visit the flowers, and birds feed on the seeds. The sweet, thickened rootstocks are relished by voles and other herbivorous mammals. Blazing stars are an important (and showy) part of the complex community of plants in the tallgrass prairie.