Liatris, Blazing Stars

31 Aug
Liatris, Blazing Stars

Liatris chapmanii and additional species

(Nobody knows how the name “Liatris” originated.   Alvin Chapman was a 19th Century physician who documented fundamentally much of the Florida flora.)


Hot hot hot.  John and I today sweltered across the Haney Creek Natural Area near Jensen Beach, Florida, a mixed habitat with an extensive white sand scrub “desert.”  Sometimes sheer beauty is the main story.   Today the Liatris plumes were surreal, hundreds of glowing purple feathery spikes waving in the wind.    Even master photographer John  can’t capture the sunshine, fragrance, and breeze with a camera.

Liatris chapmanii 5

By John Bradford

Most of those in Haney Creek are Liatris chapmanii, although there are others too. Florida is home to about 14 different Liatris species, five locally, and  four species 100% restricted to the Sunshine State.  Not a bad representation of a genus with only 37 species altogether.

liatris patch

Chapman’s Liatris today

Despite their good looks, these plants are tough, famous for making subterranean corms (thick bulblike stems)  or rhizomes able to hide from fires and other hardships above the soil. Nobody would farm the corms, exactly, but Liatris is a commercially valuable cut flower, especially  the lovely Liatris spicata native to our area and up eastern North America.  The bulbous corms have been grown commercially in the bulb capital of the world, The Netherlands, and from there to Egypt where they flourish to sustain a cut flower industry there.   The corms then became abundant byproducts of that industry, and thus objects of research as potential food and drug sources, complicated by the presence of nutritional benefits and bioactivity at the same time.

Liatris gracilis 5

The corms, by JB

The raison d’etre for the Liatris flower power is to lure pollinators.   Build it and they will come:  bees, butterflies, day-flying moths, and even hummingbirds.   The Bleeding Flower Moth breeds exclusively or nearly so in Liatris flower heads, where its larvae benefit from Liatris-matched camouflage.  More remarkable, the adult moth’s coloration resembles the flowering heads.

Liatris white

Some mutants are white-flowered. Today.

Today squinting through the sweat dripping from our brows, we failed to spot the Bleeding Flower Moths, maybe too well hidden.   In the same scrub patch fluttering about was the black swallowtail below.

liatris file swallowtail

Who is looking at whom?



Posted by on August 31, 2018 in Liatris, Uncategorized


7 responses to “Liatris, Blazing Stars

  1. Linda Cooper

    September 1, 2018 at 7:20 am

    Nice article but your swallowtail is Black. I can see the orange spot on the wing edge has a black ‘bullseye’. Spicebush would have a blue arrowhead intruding into the orange spotband.

    • George Rogers

      September 1, 2018 at 8:11 am

      thanks—reworded to remove species distinction. Probably should have done that to begin with, since with the plants I generally downplay species distinctions to focus on the ecology. Should have had the sense to do that with flutterbys.

      • Linda Cooper

        September 1, 2018 at 1:22 pm

        I am always happy to help with butterfly ID.

  2. Laure Hristov

    September 1, 2018 at 7:40 am

    Wow awesome pictures! Never saw either of these.

    • George Rogers

      September 4, 2018 at 9:25 am

      Flowers you’ve not seen? Did not know any existed 🙂

  3. Linda Grashoff

    September 2, 2018 at 11:01 am

    I didn’t know the range of the Liatris extended so far south. I’ve never seen them on the Gulf coast of the state—but that may be because I’m not there year-round. I have seen them wild in Ohio and Michigan’s upper peninsula. And I’ve never heard of the Bleeding Flower Moth. How cool!

    • George Rogers

      September 4, 2018 at 9:26 am

      Not all, but most of the Liatris was down around my haunts in S FL is on scrub. They almost seem to glow in the right sunshine.


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