Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center
The blazing stars or "gay-feathers" signal the beginning of the mid-summer season on the Dakota prairies. The round-headed species discussed here can be found from southern Canada to New Mexico, at elevations up to 7,500 ft.
Round-headed blazing star is a tall, gaudy plant with ten to fifteen brilliant smoky-purple flower heads atop unbranched stems. The heads are about an inch wide. Leaves are rough to the touch. At the bottom of the plant the leaves may be over six inches long, but they become progressively shorter towards the top. The sturdy brown roots of this perennial penetrate deep underground. Fruits are achenes with small barbs.
Look for this plant in rich soil such as found at the bases of slopes or in the low grasslands bordering our numerous prairie wetlands. Sheep will consume round-headed blazing star but it seems to be mostly avoided by cattle and so persists under moderate grazing pressure in most pastures. The roots of some blazing stars were used as food and medicine by native Americans.
This species is a member of the sunflower family (Asteraceae) in which many individual flowers are grouped into single flower heads. Aster means "star" in Greek, in reference to the radiate arrangement of flowers in the heads. Derivation of the generic name Liatris is unknown. Ligulistylis means "with strap-like styles" in botanical Latin, in reference to the shape of the female reproductive organs. First collections of round-headed blazing star for scientific purposes were made by botanist Aven Nelson in the late 1800's.