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FNA | Family List | FNA Vol. 21 | Asteraceae

410. Liatris Gaertner ex Schreber, Gen. Pl. 2: 542. 1791.

Gayfeather, blazing star [Derivation unknown]

Guy L. Nesom

Perennials, 20–180 cm (corms globose to depressed-ovoid or napiform, sometimes elongated, becoming rhizomes, roots all or mostly adventitious). Stems erect, simple or basally branched. Leaves basal and cauline; alternate; ± petiolate (basal) or sessile (usually appressed to ascending); blades usually 1-nerved, sometimes 3- or 5-nerved, mostly linear to ovate-lanceolate, margins entire, faces often gland-dotted (stipitate-glandular in L. glandulosa). Heads discoid, in corymbiform, cymiform, racemiform, or spiciform arrays. Involucres mostly campanulate to hemispheric or turbinate-cylindric, (2.5–)3–22(–25) mm diam. Phyllaries persistent or tardily falling, 18–40 in (2–)3–7 series, not notably nerved, ovate to elliptic or lanceolate, usually unequal (herbaceous to petaloid, margins often hyaline, often ciliate or irregularly toothed, apices often pink-white). Receptacles flat, epaleate. Florets 3–85; corollas usually lavender to dark magenta or pinkish purple, sometimes white, throats funnelform (lengths 4–6 times diams., externally glanduliferous, glabrous inside or pilose inside near filament insertions, hairs whitish, crisped); styles: bases not enlarged, glabrous, branches linear-clavate (papillate). Cypselae prismatic, 8–11-ribbed, usually hirsutulous to hirtellous-pilose (glabrous in L. oligocephala), usually gland-dotted; pappi persistent, of 12–40 coarsely barbellate to plumose bristles in 1–2 series. x = 10.

Species 37 (37 in the flora): North America, Mexico, West Indies (Bahamas).

The globose perennating structures of Liatris have been described as corms and cormoid rootstocks, the elongate ones as rhizomes and penetrating rootstocks. They are here regarded as corms and rhizomes, rather than roots with adventitious buds. New stems may be produced from various lateral points (nodes) of the corms. Some taxa show various stages of transition between globose structures and elongate structures that function like horizontal rhizomes. All other Liatrinae (except perhaps the shrubby Garberia) apparently produce rhizomes with fibrous roots, rather than a taproot.


Gaiser, L. O. 1946. The genus Liatris. Rhodora 48: 165–183, 216–263, 273–326, 331–382, 393–412. Gaiser, L. O. 1950. Chromosome studies in Liatris. I. Spicatae and Pycnostachyae. Amer. J. Bot. 37: 122–135. Gaiser, L. O. 1950b. Chromosome studies in Liatris. II. Graminifoliae and Pauciflorae. Amer. J. Bot. 37: 414–423. Gaiser, L. O. 1950c. Chromosome studies in Liatris. III. Punctatae. Amer. J. Bot. 37: 763–777. Gaiser, L. O. 1950d. Evidence for intersectional field hybrids in Liatris. Evolution 5: 52–67. Menhusen, B. R. 1963. Variation in the Punctatae Series of the Genus Liatris (Compositae). Ph.D. dissertation. University of Kansas. Nesom, G. L. 2005. Infrageneric classification of Liatris (Asteraceae: Eupatorieae). Sida 21: 1305–1321. Nesom, G. L. and J. M. Stucky. 2004. Taxonomy of the Liatris pilosa (graminifolia) group (Asteraceae: Eupatorieae) Sida 21: 815–826.

1 Pappi usually of plumose or subplumose bristles (barbellate to subplumose, barbels mostly 0.5–1 mm, in L. acidota and L. ohlingerae)   (2)
+ Pappi usually of barbellate bristles (barbels mostly 0.1–0.4 mm)   (15)
2 (1) Phyllary apices (at least inner) prolonged, ± spreading, ± dilated, petaloid (pink, purplish, white, or yellow)   10 Liatris elegans
+ Phyllary apices (at least of inner) acuminate, acute, cuspidate, mucronate, obtuse, rounded, rounded-acuminate, or truncate (seldom notably spreading, not dilated or petaloid)   (3)
3 (2) Heads in cymiform or corymbiform to subcorymbiform arrays; peduncles (arcuate or ascending-spreading) 20–70 mm   (4)
+ Heads usually in racemiform to spiciform arrays, rarely borne singly; peduncles 0 or 1–10(–25) mm   (5)
4 (3) Involucres cylindro-campanulate, 14–17 × 8–11 mm; phyllary apices usuallyrounded, often mucronate; Texas   7 Liatris cymosa
+ Involucres hemispheric to campanulate or broadly turbinate, 17–23 × 15–20 mm; phyllary apices usually rounded to obtuse (pappus bristles barbellate tosubplumose); Florida   30 Liatris ohlingerae (in part)
5 (3) Leaves 3–5-nerved; florets 10–60; corollas (lobes adaxially hispid)   (6)
+ Leaves mostly 1-nerved, sometimes 3–5-nerved (L. acidota); florets (2–)3–6(–8) or 8–14(–16); corollas (lobes glabrous)   (9)
6 (5) Phyllaries ± equal (outer usually as long as or longer than inner)   (7)
+ Phyllaries ± unequal (outer shorter)   (8)
7 (6) Heads usually borne singly (each immediately subtended by relatively broad, foliaceous bracts longer than involucres); stems glabrous   1 Liatris compacta
+ Heads in racemiform to spiciform arrays; stems glabrous or puberulent-villous   2 Liatris squarrosa
8 (6) Stems hirsute to piloso-hirsute; phyllary apices (at least inner) acute-acuminate (all usually spreading to reflexed on distal 1/5–1/3, usually without hyaline borders)   3 Liatris hirsuta
+ Stems usually glabrous; phyllary apices (at least inner) usually rounded, rounded-acuminate, or truncate, often stiffly mucronate (all essentially erect and appressed, usually with narrow hyaline borders)   4 Liatris cylindracea
9 (5) Heads in loose, spiciform arrays (widely spaced, stems evident); florets 4–6(–8) or 8–14(–16)   (10)
+ Heads in dense, spiciform arrays (closely spaced, stems usually obscured); florets (2–)3–6(–8)   (11)
10 (9) Florets 4–6(–8)   5 Liatris punctata (in part)
+ Florets 8–14(–16)   6 Liatris bracteata
11 (9) Corms elongate or becoming rhizomes   5 Liatris punctata (in part)
+ Corms globose, subglobose, depressed-globose, or ovoid   (12)
12 (11) Leaves 3(–5)-nerved (bases of basal often fibrous-persistent), cauline abruptly reduced distally (pappus bristles subplumose); coastal plain, Louisiana, Texas   16 Liatris acidota (in part)
+ Leaves 1-nerved (bases not fibrous-persistent), cauline usually gradually or little reduced, sometimes abruptly reduced, distally; inland habitats   (13)
13 (12) Stems stipitate-glandular   9 Liatris glandulosa
+ Stems glabrous (not glandular)   (14)
14 (13) Phyllaries (11–18) in (4–)5–6 series, mostly oblong-obovate, unequal (inner 7–9 mm), apices obtuse to truncate-rounded (each tipped by thick, often indurate apicula or mucros, lateral veins usually not evident beyond middle or at least on distal 1/3); flowering mostlymid–late Aug(–Oct)   5 Liatris punctata (in part)
+ Phyllaries (6–11) in 2–3 series, oblong-lanceolate to lanceolate-triangular, subequal (inner 11–12 mm), apices acute to acute-attenuate (sometimes with narrow tips, lateral veins usually evident beyond middle, continuingnearly to tips); flowering mid Jul–Aug(–Sep)   8 Liatris aestivalis
15 (1) Heads borne singly or (2–30) in corymbiform to subcorymbiform arrays   (16)
+ Heads in racemiform to spiciform arrays   (17)
16 (15) Involucres campanulate-turbinate, 10–19(–23) × (8–)10–17(–22) mm; phyllaries in ± 3–4 series, apices mostly long-acuminate (innermost short-acuminate); Alabama   12 Liatris oligocephala
+ Involucres hemispheric to campanulate or broadly turbinate, 17–23 × 15–20 mm; phyllaries in 6–7 series, apices rounded to obtuse; Florida   30 Liatris ohlingerae (in part)
17 (15) Leaves 3- or 5-nerved   (18)
+ Leaves usually 1-nerved, sometimes 1- (or 3-) nerved   (22)
18 (17) Stems glabrous (often sparsely sessile-glandular, leaf bases not fibrous-persistent); corolla tubes pilose inside   29 Liatris savannensis (in part)
+ Stems glabrous or piloso-puberulent (not glandular, leaf bases fibrous-persistent); corolla tubes glabrous inside   (19)
19 (18) Phyllary apices obtuse to rounded   (20)
+ Phyllary apices acuminate, acute, or acute-acuminate   (21)
20 (19) Basal leaves 6–12(–15) mm wide; Great Plains   13 Liatris lancifolia
+ Basal leaves (2–)4–10(–20) mm wide; e of Mississippi River   14 Liatris spicata
21 (19) Phyllary apices acute to acute-acuminate (reflexed to curving-spreading,tips often ± dilated, nearly petaloid); florets (4–)5–8   15 Liatris pycnostachya
+ Phyllary apices acuminate to acute (erect and ± appressed); florets (2–)3–4(–5)   16 Liatris acidota (in part)
22 (17) Phyllary apices (at least mid and inner) usually acuminate to acute or rounded to rounded-retuse and minutely involute-cuspidate to acuminate or apiculate   (23)
+ Phyllary apices (at least mid and inner) usually obtuse, rounded, or truncate, rarely acute (not rounded-retuse or cuspidate to apiculate)   (34)
23 (22) Phyllaries narrowly triangular, margins without hyaline borders, apices (divergent), usually acuminate to acute; florets 10–12; w Louisiana, e Texas   11 Liatris tenuis
+ Phyllaries elliptic-oblong, lanceolate, oblong, oblong-lanceolate, oblong-obovate, obovate, ovate, ovate-triangular, or spatulate, margins usually with narrow hyaline borders, apices (erect) acuminate, acute, obtuse-angled, rounded, or rounded-retuse, sometimes minutely involute-cuspidate to apiculate; florets 3–6(–9) or 7–10(–12); mostly e of Mississippi River   (24)
24 (23) Stems glabrous or sparsely pilose   (25)
+ Stems hirtellous (hairs spreading to slightly deflexed) or hirsute, piloso-puberulent, puberulent, strigoso-hirtellous, or strigoso-puberulent   (29)
25 (24) Phyllary apices usually rounded-retuse and minutely involute-cuspidate to apiculate; corolla tubes glabrous inside   (26)
+ Phyllary apices acute, obtuse-angled, or rounded; corolla tubes pilose inside   (27)
26 (25) Stems glabrous or sparsely pilose; basal (and proximal cauline) leaves linear (arising from separated nodes), 1–2(–2.5) mm wide, abruptly or gradually reduced distally, margins usually ciliate proximally, facesgland-dotted   17 Liatris tenuifolia
+ Stems glabrous; basal leaves (mostly arising from congested nodes) lance-linear to linear, (1–)2–6(–9) mm wide, abruptly reduced distally, margins not ciliate, faces (minutely white-dotted by stomates) weakly, if at all, gland-dotted   18 Liatris laevigata
27 (25) Heads in racemiform to spiciform (often strongly secund) arrays; involucres (7–)11–15 mm; phyllaries oblong to oblong-oblanceolate;florets 3–6   21 Liatris pauciflora
+ Heads in racemiform to spiciform (sometimes secund) arrays; involucres (6–)7–9 mm; phyllaries ovate-triangular to oblong or oblong-lanceolate; florets 4–10(–12)   (28)
28 (27) Heads in loose arrays (not secund, internodes 6–20 mm); phyllary apices sharply acute to obtuse-angled, apiculate (apicula thickened, not markedly involute, laminae relatively thick, usually with glands in pits, without superficial glands); florets 7–10(–12); basal and proximal cauline leaves (2–)4–9(–12) mm wide (usuallyabruptly, sometimes gradually, reduced distally)   23 Liatris virgata
+ Heads in dense arrays (often secund, internodes 1–5 mm); phyllary apices rounded, acuminate to involute-cuspidate (laminae relatively thin, glands superficial at least proximally); florets 4–7(–9); basal and proximal cauline leaves 2–5 mm wide (abruptly or gradually reduced distally)   24 Liatris cokeri
29 (24) Stems hirsute, puberulent, piloso-puberulent, or strigoso-puberulent   (30)
+ Stems hirtellous (hairs spreading to slightly deflexed)   (32)
30 (29) Corms elongated into rhizomes (irregularly shaped, sometimes with thickened, fibrous roots); involucres 8–10 mm   22 Liatris garberi
+ Corms globose to elongate; involucres 4–6(–7) mm   (31)
31 (30) Cauline leaves (proximal) usually lanceolate, linear, linear-oblanceolate, or oblanceolate, sometimes narrowly spatulate, 2–8(–10) mm wide (bracts subtending proximal heads to 2 mm wide, abruptly differentiated from distal cauline leaves); phyllary apices usually rounded or obtuse-truncate, rarely acute   32 Liatris gracilis (in part)
+ Cauline leaves (proximal) spatulate (petioles slender, blades elliptic to lance-elliptic), (8–)11–22(–27) mm wide (bracts subtending proximal heads 2+ mm wide, grading gradually from distal cauline leaves); phyllary apices usually acuminate to acute, rarely obtuse   33 Liatris gholsonii (in part)
32 (29) Heads in relatively loose, racemiform to spiciform (often secund)arrays   21 Liatris pauciflora
+ Heads in dense, spiciform (cylindric) arrays   (33)
33 (32) Heads (rigidly ascending, appressed to rachises and each other, overlapping); phyllary margins usually not ciliolate, apices (erect) acuminate to acute   19 Liatris chapmanii
+ Heads (spreading to ascending, not strongly overlapping); phyllary margins ciliolate, apices (slightly spreading) acuminate to acute   20 Liatris provincialis
34 (22) Stems glabrous (sometimes sparsely sessile-glandular, rarely sparsely to moderately pilose in L. pilosa)   (35)
+ Stems hispidulo-puberulent, piloso-puberulent, puberulent, puberulent-villous, strigoso-hirtellous, or strigoso-puberulent   (39)
35 (34) Involucres 5–7(–9) mm; florets 4–5(–6); corolla tubes glabrous inside (pappi: lengthsusually ± 1/2 corollas)   28 Liatris microcephala
+ Involucres 6–10 mm; florets (6–)7–13(–17); corolla tubes pilose or glabrous (L. ligulistylis) inside (pappi: lengths usually equaling corollas, shorter in some populations of L. helleri)   (36)
36 (35) Stems glabrous (often sparsely sessile-glandular); involucres (8–)9–11(–12) mm diam.; phyllaries: hyaline borders erose to lacerate, (0.2–)0.4–1 mm wide;florets 9–17   29 Liatris savannensis (in part)
+ Stems glabrous or sparsely to moderately pilose (not glandular); involucres 5–8(–10) mm diam.; phyllaries: hyaline borders smooth or erose to lacerate, 0.2–0.4 mm wide; florets (6–)7–13(–17)   (37)
37 (36) Plants 15–55 cm; leaves weakly, if at all, gland-dotted; pappi: lengths 1/3–2/3 or equaling corollas; montane   25 Liatris helleri
+ Plants 40–120 cm; leaves ± gland-dotted; pappi: lengths ± equaling corollas; coastal plain and piedmont   (38)
38 (37) Stems glabrous or sparsely or moderately pilose; heads in loose to dense arrays (internodes 1–7 mm); peduncles 0 or 1–10(–80) mm; involucres(7–)8–10 mm; phyllaries in (3–)4–5(–6) series   26 Liatris pilosa
+ Stems glabrous; heads in loose arrays (internodes 2–14 mm); peduncles 0 or 2(–7) mm; involucres 6–8 mm; phyllaries in 3–4(–5) series   27 Liatris elegantula
39 (34) Involucres 2.5–7 mm diam.; florets 3–12   (40)
+ Involucres (6–)8–15 mm diam. (L. squarrulosa) or 13–22(–25) mm diam.; florets 11–80.   (42)
40 (39) Stems moderately to densely strigoso-hirtellous; peduncles (divergent, arcuate-ascending) 10–25(–30) mm; involucres 5–7 mm diam.; phyllary apices rounded to subtruncate; florets 7–12   31 Liatris patens
+ Stems piloso-puberulent, puberulent, or strigoso-puberulent; peduncles 0 or (usually ascending) 2–10(–12) mm; involucres 2.5–4(–5) mm diam.; phyllary apices rounded or obtuse to acuminate or acute; florets 3–6(–9)   (41)
41 (40) Proximal cauline leaves usually linear to linear-oblanceolate or oblanceolate, sometimes narrowly spatulate, 2–8(–10) mm wide (proximal floral bracts to 2 mm wide, abruptly differentiated from distal cauline leaves); phyllaryapices usually rounded or obtuse-truncate, rarely acute   32 Liatris gracilis (in part)
+ Proximal cauline leaves spatulate (blades elliptic to lance-elliptic), (8–)11–22(–27) mm wide (proximal floral bracts 2+ mm wide, gradually differentiated from distal cauline leaves); phyllary apices usually acuminate to acute,rarely obtuse   33 Liatris gholsonii (in part)
42 (39) Peduncles usually (5–)8–50 mm, rarely 0; phyllaries (usually erect, rarely spreading-reflexing); florets 30–80 (19–33 in L. scariosa var. scariosa); corolla tubes glabrous or pilose inside   (43)
+ Peduncles usually 0, sometimes 1–8+ (rarely to 30 in L. squarrulosa) mm; phyllaries (at least outer) usually reflexing, sometimes erect; florets 11–30; corolla tubes pilose inside   (44)
43 (42) Phyllary margins: hyaline borders erose to lacerate or irregular; corolla tubes glabrousinside; Great Plains, e slope of Rocky Mountains in United States   34 Liatris ligulistylis
+ Phyllary margins: hyaline borders none or relatively smooth; corolla tubes pilose orglabrous inside; ne and nc United States, adjacent Canada   35 Liatris scariosa
44 (42) Phyllaries glabrous (bullate, hyaline borders relatively broad, often erose to lacerate or irregular)   36 Liatris aspera
+ Phyllaries glabrous or puberulent to puberulent-hirtellous (not bullate, hyaline borders none or relatively narrow, smooth)   37 Liatris squarrulosa

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