Operation NICE! plant of the season
Fall 2007

Perennial: Gayfeather (Liatris mucronata)

Gayfeather loading 
            Photo: by Kathy Saucier

Description:  Liatris is a large eastern and midwestern North American genus that includes 43 species, collectively called Gayfeather, Blazing Star, or Button-Snakeroot. Narrow-Leaf Gayfeather, L. mucronata, is native to eastern and northern Texas, south to the Edwards Plateau and west to the rolling plains.  This prairie perennial has multiple stalks that give the plant its 1 to 1.5 feet width.  It grows 1 to 3 feet tall and has an erect growth pattern, growing from corm-like structures in the soil.  True to its name, Narrow Leaf Gayfeather has narrow leaves that are approximately 2 inches long.

Blooms: Gayfeather blooms from August through the beginning of October and occasionally up to November with lavender to purple flower spikes.  Each flower spike, with many ½ inch corollas, starts to bloom at the top and slowly descends toward the base.  The flowers attract butterflies and hummingbirds. 

Planting sites: Gayfeather should be planted in full sun to light shade in well-drained soil.  It tolerates a range of soil pH, from weakly acidic to moderately alkaline. It will grow well in sandy loam, loam, or even clay-based soil if it is well-drained.  Plants should be spaced 1-2 feet apart.  Do not plant Gayfeather where it might experience “wet feet” or it may rot.  Gayfeather seeds can be planted in the early spring or in the fall.

Watering Instructions:  Gayfeather should be watered well immediately after planting and then every 2-3 weeks during the first growing season if there is no rain.  Like most native plants, Gayfeather should not be over-watered.   After the first growing season, Gayfeather should survive with existing rainfall because it is very drought tolerant.

Comments: L. mucronata is similar to the widely cultivated Gayfeather species L. spicata in the appearance of its bloom and foliage, but unlike L. spicata, L. mucronata is much longer lived and better adapted to North Texas.  Gayfeather needs no soil amendments, although it is not recommended for poorly draining hard clay soil.  When L. mucronata is grown in fertilized garden soils, its flower stalks may grow long and leggy and fall over.  After several years, Gayfeather may be propagated by digging up and dividing its underground corm-like or bulb-like structures.  Gayfeather makes a nice cut flower for fall bouquets. 

Look for the NICE! Plant of the Season signs and information sheets on your next visit to a participating North Texas nursery.  Thank you for using native plants in your landscapes.

Written by: Dr. Rebecca Dickstein, Professor of Biology, University of North Texas.

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Last noted update by Lon: March 19, 2009.