They are plants of the open prairie - these members of a dramatic and magnificent family, the Liatris. In manner of growth and in color and size, the Liatris clan is unique in the world of bright prairie flowers.
Liatris pycnostachya Michx.
July - August Prairie roadsides.
Gayfeather is a Composite, closely related to the bonesets and thor-oughworts, which thrives in the blazing sunshine and dry soil of open country along railroads and highways, and on open, dry clay ridges. Here in August stand up the exclamation marks of the gayfeather, which is one of the most splendid plants to be found on the Illinois prairie. It grows in a long, unbranching wand which often stands four or five feet tall. Perhaps two-thirds of its resilient stalk is closely set with spirals of short, narrow leaves. The remainder of the stem is a thickly set club of bright, rose-purple, starry blossoms. When they are in bloom, they present a "cattail" of rose-purple flowers which are fuzzy with the extended white stamens and pistils. For a time the entire stalk is in bloom at once; then the lower flowers begin to fade as the upper buds continue to blossom. There are at least six species of gayfeather and blazing star in Illinois. All arc very similar in habit and color, and most have a wide range from north to south through the state. They are most frequently found with the drifts of early goldenrod and tick trefoil, with ironweed and prairie sunflowers, there where the grey spermophile has its burrow and the nest of the yellowthroat down in the drying grass is empty now of eggs and young.