Would you like to see more butterflies fluttering through your garden this summer? Based on what we’ve seen in our New Jersey trial gardens, it’s very easy to do — just plant some liatris!
Last summer we planted several hundred of these bulb-like corms to see how they would perform in perennial beds, containers, and naturalized areas. The plants grew well, and the butterflies were an unexpected bonus! We saw swallowtails and monarchs, fritillaries and painted ladies, eastern commas and skippers — and it was the fuzzy, bottle-brush flowers of liatris that drew them in.
An Easy and Versatile Plant
Commonly known as blazing star or gayfeather, this North American wildflower has grassy foliage and slender, 2 to 4-foot flower spikes. There are more than a dozen different species and several named cultivars. The one we offer is Liatris spicata, which has lovely, amethyst-purple flowers. Other flower colors include white and rose.
Liatris grows wild in almost every state east of the Rockies, as well as in southern Canada and Northern Mexico. That’s one reason the flowers are so appealing to native pollinators. This tough and adaptable wildflower prefers moist, well-drained soil and full sun, but tolerates poor soil, partial shade, heat, humidity, and drought. It’s also rarely bothered by insects, disease, rabbits or deer.
Liatris, grow from corms that are about the size of a quarter. Plant them 3” deep and about 5” apart, though the spacing isn’t critical. It takes just a few seconds to dig a hole, drop in some bulbs and cover them up, so it’s easy to tuck them into an existing perennial garden. Over the years, I have planted several hundred corms in my meadow “garden.” In August, they bloom alongside other naturalized plants, including alliums, rudbeckia, helenium, asters, and goldenrod.
Liatris is popular with florists because the straight, sturdy stems add structure to mixed arrangements. The flowers also last a long time in a vase. So if you have a cutting garden or simply enjoy making summer bouquets, that’s another good reason for planting liatris.
We admit to taking a crazy amount of butterfly photos last summer. If you plant liatris in your garden, you’ll probably find yourself doing the same thing. If you have children around, all the better! When we couldn’t justify taking even one more butterfly photo, we switched to videos.