Blazing Stars in Winter

by Carl Strang

The blazing stars are among our showiest native wildflowers.

Prairie blazing star, Liatris pycnostachya, in bloom

Prairie blazing star, Liatris pycnostachya, in bloom

In winter the seeds drift away, leaving the 2-4-foot stalk.

Tip of a prairie blazing star in February

Tip of a prairie blazing star in February

This individual still retained most of the flower head bracts.

The tips of the bracts are acuminate, or drawn out into slender points, in this species. The points bend down, making them difficult to see in this photo.

The tips of the bracts are acuminate, or drawn out into slender points, in this species. The points bend down, making them difficult to see in this photo.

The stems also retain much of their fuzziness. Many of the stem leaves remain attached.

Part of the lower stem of a prairie blazing star.

Part of the lower stem of a prairie blazing star.

At Mayslake Forest Preserve I have a second species to compare, the marsh blazing star (L. spicata).

This marsh blazing star shed nearly all of its bracts. The few that remain have blunt tips.

This marsh blazing star shed nearly all of its bracts. The few that remain have blunt tips.

Marsh blazing star stems have small white dots, but are smooth rather than fuzzy.

Part of the lower stem of a marsh blazing star.

Part of the lower stem of a marsh blazing star.

Distinguishing these species requires a magnifying glass, but the blazing stars as a group are easy enough to recognize in winter.

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