Royal Guards of the Garden
by Jeannie Chambers
This plant almost begs for attention, and deserves every glance. Liatris spicata is a member of the boneset tribe (Eupatoricae), a huge family of over 2,000 species. With a family that big, you have to be something different, or risk being one of the crowd. Also called Gayfeather or Blazing Star, Liatris is in the same family as the aster and sunflower.
This perennial dies back in the winter above ground, but underneath lies the heart of the plant in its corm. The corm, or bulbotuber, stores all the plant’s energy during winter and other adverse growing times, like extreme drought. Growing anywhere from one-to-five-feet tall, these statuesque beauties with their showy purple flowers resemble bottle brushes, or maybe they’re the Royal Guards of the garden with their purple floral plume, standing firm to protect the balance of the garden. Liatris can handle planting zones 3-8, and likes full sun, and loves to show off in cut flower arrangements. Bloom time is July and August, and if the conditions are right, may last through September.
This as-spire-ing plant is excellent for attracting pollinators such as bees, and butterflies, and hummingbirds like them, too. Groundhogs, voles and rabbits tend to get the munchies around these plants, but deer hold off unless there’s nothing else better to do.
Liatris isn’t just a pretty face, as the Cherokee used it medicinally as a diuretic, to prevent or treat gas, an expectorant, an analgesic, and to treat snake bites. I’m not sure how Liatris got its name, but I’m going to venture out and imagine that Grandfather Eupatori requested of his daughter Beatrice, to name his granddaughter Leatrice, which somehow through the ages got changed to Liatris. You may call her LEE-at-ris or lee-AT-ris, she doesn’t really mind, as long as you call on her to take a stand in your garden.