Another school year is starting soon, requiring the annual recitations of “almost always” and “most of the time” with respect to explaining plants.
Most of the time, members of the Asteraceae or sunflower family have a composite inflorescence–a set of flowers much reduced in size are densely clustered together on a single receptacle, and give the impression of a single flower. Usually, I use the sunflower as an example of a composite inflorescence that is composed of hundreds, if not thousands of individual flowers. Exceptions within the Asteraceae where each flowering head only contains a single flower (or floret) include Hecastocleis and Gundelia.
Liatris, the blazing-stars or gayfeathers, do not fall into the exception category. However, one can see the difference between species with perhaps a hundred florets on one receptable (Liatris ligulistylis) compared to species with only a few flowers or florets per receptable. Today’s photograph of Liatris punctata is in the latter group; in the image, there are perhaps a dozen or so receptacles ascending along a spike, each with 3-8 florets.
Photographed two weeks ago in Manitoba, late summer is the best time to see Liatris punctata (and in this location, growing alongside Liatris ligulistylis). Known as dotted blazing-star or dotted gayfeather, this particular variety of Liatris punctata (var. punctata) is native to the grasslands of the Canadian Prairies and the US Midwest. The Flora of North America has details on the other two varieties, if of interest: Liatris punctata. Although not native to California, additional photographs are available via CalPhotos.