Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center
Many North Dakotans consider blanketflower their favorite prairie plant. The plant has been found in nearly every county in the state and also occupies the crescent of dry grasslands that stretch from the prairie provinces of Canada to Arizona, at elevations under 9,000 ft. In addition, blanketflower has adapted to conditions found in the sagebrush grasslands of the Great Basin.
This plant grows up to a foot and a half tall in our area. The most striking feature of the plant is the flower heads. These are brown in the center, with rays that are purple at the base and yellow at the tip; this pattern gives the three-colored "blanket" effect. Leaves are long and toothed at the bottom of the stem, but are smaller, narrower, and toothless upwards. A short taproot lies below the slightly bulbous base. Fruits are 3/16-inch-long achenes equipped with long, silky hairs.
Blanketflower is often grown as an ornamental. Plants can be found in just about any grazed native pasture except perhaps those heavily stocked with sheep.
Blanketflower is a member of the huge sunflower family (Asteraceae) which contains nearly 200 species in North Dakota, and about 15,000 species worldwide. In this family, many flowers are grouped into heads often erroneously thought of as single flowers by laypersons. Aster means "star" in Greek, in ascription to the radiate arrangement of the flowers in the heads. The genus was dedicated in 1788 in honor of the early French botanist Gaillard de Charentonneau. Aristata means "bearing bristles" in botanical Latin, in reference to the rough hairy leaves and stems. Botanist Frederick Pursh described this plant species for science in his monumental Flora Americae Septentrionale published in 1814.