The fireworks of July 4th last a few minutes, but the fireworks of rough blazing star (Liatris aspera) last day after day through the hottest weeks of the year. In midsummer this native prairie beauty acts like a slow-motion sparkler—from the top down, an 18-inch spike of buds bursts into shaggy rose-purple stars, forming a bright, fuzzy flare on top of a leggy stalk. Grasslike leaves cluster at the base of the stalks. No need to call the fire department, though—this hardy perennial doesn’t require emergency measures to get through the summer. It’s tolerant of heat, drought, and poor soil. And unlike fireworks, it’s legal in all 50 states!
Common name: Rough Blazing Star, rough gayfeather, button snakeroot
Botanical name: Liatris aspera
Plant type: Perennial
Zones: 3 to 9
Height: 2 to 6 feet
· Sun: Full sun
· Soil: Average, well-drained
· Moisture: Dry to medium wet
· Mulch: Mulch to preserve moisture in the soil.
· Pruning: None needed.
· Fertilizer: None needed.
· By seed or by division
Pests and diseases
· Vulnerable to leaf spots, rust, and stem rot.
· Common pests include snails and slugs.
· Liatris looks good in woodland gardens or other naturalistic settings.
· Stake blazing star, or grow it among plants that provide support, like bee balm, mountain mint, and coneflowers.
· Use in cutting gardens, prairie settings, or perennial beds.
· Attracts bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds.
· Birds eat seed heads.
· Though Liatris aspera doesn’t have cultivars, its cousin, L. spicata, does. L. spicata ‘Kobold’ is what you’ll most likely find at a garden center. At 2 feet tall, it’s smaller than the species but bears similar deep purple flowers. L. spicata ‘Floristan Weiss’ is of a similar height and has white flower spikes.
· Find L. aspera and other species at native plant nurseries or in specialty mail-order catalogues.
All in the family
· There are more than 40 Liatris species, most of them prairie plants of North America.
· Also in the Aster family are Shasta daisies (Leucanthemum x superbum), Mexican sunflowers (Tithonia), chrysanthemums, dahlias, and, of course, asters.
(Text by Elizabeth Noll, photo of Liatris aspera courtesy of Missouri Botanical Garden’s Kemper Center for Home Gardening)