Monarch on Liatris

Bloom report: Blazing star lives up to its name

Pictured above: A Monarch butterfly nectars on Blazing star (Liatris spicata). Photo by Jeff Norcini

Blazing stars (Liatris), also known as gayfeathers, are showy purple wands of flowers that are hard to miss, even when speeding down an interstate at 70 mph.  They are in the daisy family (Asteraceae) but lack the showy petals typical of plants in this family. Blazing star inflorescences — like some other wildflowers in this family, including goldenrods (Solidago spp.) — are composed solely of disk florets. Disk florets normally are the fertile ones that produce seed, as many of you have seen with the common garden sunflower (Helianthus spp.).

Sixteen blazing star species are native to Florida. The two most common ones are Slender blazing star (Liatris gracilis) and Dense blazing star (Liatris spicata). The former, which occurs in dry areas, grows up to 3 feet tall. In contrast, Dense blazing star is found in moist areas and is much taller, from 2 to 6 feet.  However, the taller the plant, the more susceptible it is to lodging, an agronomic term that refers to the bending over of crops such as wheat and corn. Both species, like all Blazing stars, are very attractive to bees and butterflies.

This should be a good year for blazing stars, with the best places to see them being rural areas. That includes roadsides that traverse natural areas, such as state and national forests and wildlife management areas.

Late summer rains produce fall wildflowers

Late summer rains across most of Florida were enough to promote showy displays of native wildflowers and grasses this fall.  Above-normal temperatures and normal rain are forecast for fall, which may result in earlier flowering of some native wildflowers and grasses.

In the Panhandle, especially west of Tallahassee, Hurricane Sally’s effects might reduce displays of wildflowers and grasses due to flooding and wind knocking over all but the shortest of plants.

East of Tallahassee and throughout North Florida, expect showy displays in dry and moist areas. Claudia Larsen, owner of Micanopy Wildflowers near Gainesville, was very optimistic about fall wildflower viewing in North Florida, especially in October and November. She noted that “Giant ironweed (Vernonia gigantea) and Goldenrod started blooming early in August.” Claudia also mentioned that “Central Florida grasses are growing and forming flower spikes now: bluestem (Andropogon spp.), Indiangrass (Sorghastrum spp.), wiregrass (Aristida spp.), Panicum (Coleataenia spp., previously Panicum) and lovegrass (Eragrostis sp).” In addition to roadsides and trails, she pointed out that “scrub and sandhill areas like Gold Head Branch State Park and areas in Ocala National Forest are particularly beautiful in late fall. Look for Garberia (Garberia heterophylla) and Summer farewell (Dalea pinnata), as well as stands of wireweed (Polygonum spp., previously Polygonella), Palafox (Palafoxia spp.), blazing star and Coastalplain honeycombhead (Balduina angustifolia).

Butterflies nectar on blazing Star on State Road 65 in the Apalachicola National Forest.

Look for wildflowers in recently burned areas

Nancy Bissett, co-owner of The Natives in Davenport, echoed Claudia’s expectations about North and Central Florida. She noted that, in North Florida, wetland species like Rattlesnakemaster (Eryngium aquaticum) and Cowbane (Oxypolis spp.) were in full bloom and “attracting so many butterflies and other pollinators.” She recommended looking for blooming native wildflowers and grasses in “publicly managed areas where recent burns have occurred, especially in sandhills, flatwoods and dry and wet prairies. After a growing season burn in early summer, our natural areas have spectacular wildflower displays with many different species. “

In South Florida, botanist Roger Hammer of Homestead observed an overall trend of blooming earlier. He recommended Janes Scenic Drive in the Fakahatchee Strand State Park (Collier County), Main Park Road in Everglades National Park, and Turner River Road in the Big Cypress National Preserve as great places to see blooming wildflowers. Roger recommended looking for Pineland golden trumpet (Angadenia berteroi), Pineland lantana (Lantana depressa var. depressa), Shortleaf blazing star (Liatris tenuifolia), Thickleaf wild petunia (Ruellia succulenta), Lopsided Indiangrass (Sorghastrum secundum) and Blue porterweed (Stachytarpheta jamaicensis) in dry areas. In moist areas, be on the lookout for Valley redstem (Ammannia coccinea), String-lily (Crinum americanum), Alligatorlily (Hymenocallis palmeri), Mexican primrosewillow (Ludwigia octovalvis), Hairawn muhlygrass (Muhlenbergia capillaris), Climbing aster (Symphyotrichum carolinianum) and Water cowbane (Tiedemannia filiformis).

Check these prior reports for other prime locations to see fall-blooming wildflowers:

Dr. Jeff Norcini serves as a Florida Wildflower Foundation consultant through his business, OecoHort, LLC, and is FDOT’s Wildflower Specialist. Thank you to Nancy Bissett, Roger Hammer and Claudia Larsen for their observations.