Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Blazing Stars

This Blazing Star is Liatris scariosa. At least that’s what I’m calling it this year. Some years it’s Liatris aspera. Plant identification can be confusing when dealing with species with similar features. Being told that one species has a stem that varies from hairy to smooth while the other has a stem that varies from smooth to hairy is like trying to find the difference between the sum of 3 + 4 and the sum of 4 + 3. It doesn’t help when the author of the text tells you that it’s nearly impossible to tell the two apart.

When making management decisions, it doesn’t really matter to me which species it is. I just know that it’s a species I want to encourage to prosper and spread. Blue Jay Barrens doesn’t have a large population of any Blazing Star species and I look forward each year to seeing the blooms on this hillside.

This site is steep, dry and rocky. The white spot in the foreground is an old cedar stump left from my clearing activities. Cedars made up about 60% of the canopy cover. The summer after I cleared the cedars, about 30 Blazing Stars bloomed here. I had never seen them here before, but I don’t know if that was because they never bloomed or because the cedars were so thick that I couldn’t see them. Most likely the plants were here but never got enough sunlight to bloom.

It’s possible that I have both species of Blazing Stars growing on this same site and only one species dominates in a given year. There are always many more non-flowering plants than ones that produce blooms. This group of basal leaves is growing around last year’s flower stalk. Flower production often drains plants of their stored energy and the plants go two or three years before flowering again. This is especially true on harsh sites like this, so it’s entirely possible that I have never taken a good look at the same plant two years in a row.

These plants are just beginning to bloom and the insects that feed on them have moved in quickly. Of course the weevils are here in large numbers. This golden beetle is one I haven’t seen before. I’ve found another thing I’m going to have to learn about and that makes me smile.

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