Gayfeathers are truly iconic symbols of the prairie. Also known as blazing stars, these distinctive plants occur throughout Kansas grasslands. Seven species are native to our state, all blooming during late summer and early fall. Producing upright spikes crowded with rose-purple flower heads, gayfeathers add a distinctive dimension to late-season landscapes dominated by asters, sunflowers, and goldenrods.
Four species of gayfeathers can be found in the Arboretum’s living collections. Kansas gayfeather or thickspike gayfeather (Liatris pycnostachya) is the tallest, reaching up to five feet in height. It is a plant of the tallgrass prairie of eastern Kansas. Button blazing star or rough gayfeather (L. aspera) occurs in drier habitats and is generally about three feet tall. Two other species, L. mucronata and L. punctata grow from one to three feet in height. Liatris punctata occurs throughout the state and is the most drought tolerant of the gayfeathers.
Gayfeathers are not only beautiful in their natural settings, they also make very fine garden plants. Thickspike is the species most likely to be sold by nurseries and garden centers. We will have most of these species at our FloraKansas Plant Sale. They all appreciate a sunny flower bed or border. Adding to their value as garden plants, gayfeathers are also attractive to many butterflies and other pollinators. In addition, the spikes make excellent cut flowers, either fresh or dried.