Plant of the Week
Savanna Blazing Star (Liatris scariosa (L.) Willd. var. nieuwlandii (Lunnell) E. G. Voss)
By David Pivorunas
One of the more unusual and beautiful late summer to fall flowering wildflower species is Liatris scariosa var. nieuwlandii. Liatris scariosa var. nieuwlandii is known by at least two common names, savanna blazing star and Nieuwland’s blazing star. This species most closely resembles New England blazing star (Liatris scariosa var. novae-angliae), which is found in northeastern states. A third variety of Liatris scariosa, known as devil’s bite or large button snakeroot,(Liatris scariosa var. scariosa), occurs in the mid-Atlantic and southern states.
Where it is found, the distribution of savanna blazing star is usually more limited than that of other Liatris species. Throughout most of its range it is not common; its populations are probably highest in Michigan and Indiana. To the west of these populations, it is found in Illinois and in the Ozark mountains more often in Missouri but also in Arkansas. This species has also been reported from Nebraska. Its range also extends eastward to parts of Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, Ontario, and West Virginia. On Forest Service lands, it is known from the Mark Twain National Forest in Missouri and the Manistee National Forest in Michigan.
Savanna blazing star tolerates a little more shade than most other Liatris and sometimes is even found in areas where some disturbance has occurred. This species prefers well-drained soils. In Midwestern states, it usually found in savannas and prairies or at woodland edges or forest openings. In prairie states like Illinois, where it is rare, it most often found in savannas with bur oak and big bluestem. In parts of Michigan, it can be found with other prairie species near openings and edges of jack pine forests.
Identification of savanna blazing star is dependent on obscure characteristics of the flower head bracts and the length of the stems holding the flower clusters.This little known Liatris has distinctive extra large flower heads, on long peduncles. The number of florets per head is greater than in most of the other blazing stars.
Savanna blazing star blooms from July thru October. The flower heads open from top to bottom, as is typical for the genus Liatris. On this species, the uppermost flower head is usually the largest. When the central spike is finished blooming, side branches may develop and send up additional flowering spikes. Seeds are present from October into the winter months. Savanna blazing star grows from an underground corm, which increases in diameter as it ages.
This plant is available from a limited number of prairie wildflower nurseries. It is worth the extra effort to locate a specialty nursery that offers it. Savanna blazing star makes a nice addition to the garden with its showy bright pink, shaggy looking flowers heads, which are large for a Liatris. It also blooms quite late in the season, after many garden plants have long finished blooming. Savanna blazing star is a perennial. The seeds of this plant will germinate the next spring when planted in fall or autumn. Plant it in well-drained soils in full sun or partial shade. Savanna blazing star is drought resistant once established.