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A Comprehensive Guide to Sharp Gayfeather (Liatris acidota)

Sharp Gayfeather (Liatris acidota) is a herbaceous perennial that is native to the states of Louisiana and Texas in the United States. This plant is a host to several moths and is important as a nectar source for bees and other insects. Growing from 0.5 to 4 feet tall, this species grows in prairies, pine flatwoods, and savannas. The purple flowers bloom from June to November and the plant is hardy in zones 8-9.

Taxonomy and Naming of Sharp Gayfeather (Liatris acidota)

Herbarium specimen of shapr gayfeather (Liatris acidota).
Liatris acidota Engelm. & A.Gray collected in United States of America by The New York Botanical Garden (licensed under CC BY 4.0)

Taxonomy

Sharp Gayfeather (Liatris acidota) was originally named and described by George Engelmann and Asa Gray in 1845. The species still has the same name and is a member of the Aster Family (Asteraceae).

Meaning of the Scientific and Common Names

Scientific Name

The genus name, Liatris, comes from an unknown Latin word. The species name, acidota, is Latin for “equal halves.”

Common Name and Alternative Names

The common name likely comes from the spike like appearance of the flowers. Other common names gulf coast gayfeather and sharp blazing star.

Physical Description

Purple flowers of sharp gayfeather (Liatris acidota) in an open area.
Flowers of sharp gayfeather (Liatris acidota) — Laura Clark, CC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
  • Plant Type: This plant is a herbaceous perennial.
  • Height: 0.5 to 4 feet tall
  • Stem: The stems are erect and glabrous. They may be slight pubescent (Correll and Correll 1972)
  • Leaves: The leaves are alternate, sessile, linear to linear-oblanceolate and are 3-5-nerved (Flora of North America). The leaves are 4 to 16 inches long and 0.04 to 0.2 inches wide. The leaves shorten to about 0.25 inch on the upper stem (Grelen and Duvall 1966).
  • Flower color: purple
  • Blooming period: This plant blooms from June to November.
  • Fruiting type and period: This plant has achenes that mature in the late fall and winter.

Range of Sharp Gayfeather in the United States and Canada

Range map of sharp gayfeather (Liatris acidota) in the United States and Canada.
Range Map Credit: Kartesz, J.T., The Biota of North America Program (BONAP). 2023.(website https://bonap.org/). Chapel Hill, N.C. [maps generated from Kartesz, J.T. 2023. Floristic Synthesis of North America, Version 1.0. Biota of North America Program (BONAP). (in press)]

This species is native to the states of Louisiana and Texas in the United States.

Habitat

Prairie habitat in United States.
Prairie Habitat — USFWS Mountain-Prairie, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

This species grows prairies, pine flatwoods (Singhurst, et al 2012), Loess hills (Palmer and Steyermark 1935), sandy ridges (Grelen and Duvall 1966), roadsides, and savannas. On prairies, this species has specifically been noted to occur on bluestem prairies (Harcombe and Neaville 1977) and places that are wet (Correll and Correll 1972).

Hosted Insects

Bleeding flower moth (Schinia sanguinea) on fabric background.
Bleeding Flower Moth (Schinia sanguinea) — Mississippi Entomological Museum, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

The members of the Liatris genus are hosts to the bleeding flower moth (Schinia gloriosa) and the wavy-lined Emerald (Synchlora aerata).

Other Supported Wildlife

Blazing star (Liatris spicata) with bumblebee in McMullen House garden.
Blazing star (Liatris spicata) with Bumblebee — Robert Coxe, Image

This species is an important nectar source to other butterflies, skippers, bees, and wasps.

Frequently Asked Questions

Does this plant have any ethnobotanical uses?

The Native American Ethobotanical Database states that this species has been used for rheumatism.

How is this plant distinguished from other Gayfeathers?

This species is similar to small-head gayfeather (Liatris microcephala), but differs in that small-head gayfeather has more stems. The glabrous stem of this plant separates it from garber’s gayfeather (Liatris garberi) (Gaiser 1946). The 3-5 nerves in the leaves serves to separate this species from other gayfeathers (Weakley, et al 2022).

Is this plant invasive?

This plant has not been noted as being weedy.

Gardening with Sharp Gayfeather

Purplish flowers of sharp gayfeather (Liatris acidota) in a field.
Flowers of Sharp Gayfeather — Liatris acidota Engelm. & A.Gray by Martha Richeson (licensed under CC0 1.0)

Hardiness

This species is hardy in zones 8-9. If your garden is within these zones and you have the right growing conditions (soil, moisture and exposure), you may well be able to grow this plant. However, if planted outside of its range, the hosted species may not recognize the plant or be harmed by ingesting a different species with an unfamiliar chemical composition.

Optimal Conditions

This species grows in full sun to partial-shade and moist sandy well-drained soil.

References

  • Correll, Donovan Stewart and Helen B. Correll. 1972. Aquatic and Wetland Plants of the Southwestern United States. Water Pollution Control Research Series EPA.
  • Gaiser, Lulu Odell. 1946. The Genus Liatris (continued). Rhodora 48: 216-263.
  • Grelen, Harold Eugene and Vinson Lamar Duvall. 1966. Common Plants of Longleaf Pine-Bluestem Range. United States Forest Service Research Paper SO-23.
  • Harcombe, P.A. and J.E. Neaville. 1977. Vegetation Types of Chambers County, Texas. The Texas Journal of Science 29: 209-234.
  • Palmer, Ernest J. and Julian A. Steyermark. 1935. An annotated Catalogue of the Flowering Plants of Missouri. Annals of the Missouri Botanical Garden 22: 375-758.
  • Singhurst, Jason R., Bruce A. Sorrie, Walter C. Holmes. 2012. Andropogon glaucopsis (Poaceae) in Texas. Phytoneuron 2012-6: 1-3.
  • Weakley, A.S., and Southeastern Flora Team. 2022. Flora of the Southeastern United States, University of North Carolina Herbarium, North Carolina Botanical Garden.
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Robert Coxe

Robert Coxe

Robert Coxe is a professional ecologist and botanist who has worked as the State Ecologist of Delaware and as an ecologist for the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy. He is also a former Past-President of the Pennsylvania Academy of Science. He currently is an innkeeper at McMullen House Bed & Breakfast LLC and a web designer and owner for Silphium Design LLC.

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