Savannah Blazing Star (Sunflower Family)
Liatris savannensis (Asteraceae)
Origin: West-central Florida
This week’s feature is a Florida native plant described as new for science less than ten years ago. Many people are familiar with Blazing Star; the genus Liatris grows all over the country, in woodlands, meadows, and mountains, and all those who see it love its showy purple flowers. Liatris savannensis was described in 2003 by Robert Kral and Guy L. Nesom and is currently only known from Sarasota, Lee, Hillsborough, and Manatee Counties. It differs from the more common L. graminifolia by the size and number of its flowers and broader phyllary margins (phyllaries are the bracts that surround the flower heads).
Asteraceae are interesting plants, with a wide range of flower styles, though what most people consider to be a flower are actually flower clusters (termed inflorescences), being composed of dozens to hundreds of smaller florets. Species of the genus Liatris have a long inflorescence with many “heads” of florets, thicker at the base and still growing at the top. These “flowers” look more like fireworks being launched than blazing stars, but oh well. “Aster” does mean star.
The plant we have at Selby Gardens was grown from seed collected at the T. Mabry Carlton Jr. Memorial Reserve by botanist Bruce Holst with permission from Sarasota County. We are excited because it’s so rare and beautiful, and we are able to maintain a population for possible future conservation projects. It should be blooming for the next few weeks in our wildflower garden at the south point of the Gardens. Another population of the species was recently found at Deer Prairie Creek Preserve, which was purchased through Sarasota County’s Environmentally Sensitive Lands Acquisition and Protection Program. Sarasota County has done a fantastic job of buying land and setting it aside, safe from development. And everyone who lives in the area has the opportunity to take advantage, whether it’s biking, hiking, canoeing…who knows what rare flora and fauna you may come across next time you’re out enjoying public land.