A USEFUL flower for late summer and early autumn, liatris has been very pretty in recent weeks. It is generally know by its botanical name of liatris in this country but it has several common names in its native North America, notably blazing star and gayfeather.
The flower spikes look like bottlebrushes with tufts of narrow filaments along the stem. This flower is unusual because the small individual flowers open along the flower spike from the top down and most other flower spikes open from the bottom up.
It is also unusual in appearance for a member of the daisy family because there is no obvious sign of the daisy flower shape, but the flower stem is a spike of rounded, button-like flower buds that open like the centre of a daisy flower with spidery filaments.
The colours of liatris are pink-purple or white. White forms arise naturally and some of these have been named, for instance, Liatris spicata 'Alba'. Good purple forms have been named too, such as 'Kobold' which has deep purple flower heads, slightly more broad than usual. 'Blue Bird' has blue-purple flower spikes.
The leaves of liatris are narrow and almost grass-like. The plant forms a tuft of these leaves from which arise the tall flower spikes. Wild plants can be more than one metre in height but the garden forms are smaller, usually about 60cm. The strongly upright shape of the flowers is very effective for contrast and looks great growing beside rounded or flopping perennial flowers as it tends to give the whole bed a lift.
The light purple colour of the flowers is very useful for setting off the masses of yellow flowers, mainly typical daisy types, that are produced in late summer and autumn -- heleniums, helianthemum, heliopsis and rudbeckia. All of these look good together, being prairie plants.
Prairie flowers also look well with some grassy foliage nearby, the strongly coloured flowers making a great contrast with the airy nature of grasses, such as panicum, stipa and miscanthus. Liatris also looks great with grasses, the strong spikes of mauve flowers stand boldly amid the grass stems.
Liatris is not difficult to grow, but it needs to have its correct conditions provided. This liatris species is found naturally by streamsides. Not that it likes to be in wet or constantly moist soil -- it does not -- but it likes soil that does not dry out. The ground must drain well but retain summer moisture as it did this year.