Raleigh Ecological Services Field Office
Conserving the Nature of America

Heller’s Blazing Star (Liatris helleri)

Heller’s Blazing Star. Credit: USFWS

Heller’s Blazing Star. Credit: USFWS

Family: Aster (Asteraceae)

Federal Status: Threatened, listed November 19, 1987

Best Search Time: July through September

Description: Heller’s blazing star is a perennial herb in the Aster family. It has one or more erect or arching stems arising from a tuft of narrow, grass-like, pale green basal leaves. Its flowering stems reach up to 16 inches (40.6 centimeters; cm) in height; they are topped by a showy, 3 – 8 in (7.6 – 20.3 cm) long spike of lavender flowers. The flowering season lasts from July through September, and its fruits are present from September through October. This species grows on the shallow acidic soils of high-elevation cliffs and rocky outcrops in full sun. Very little specific information is available on the biology of Heller’s blazing star. Other species of blazing stars, also called rattlesnake masters and button snakeroots, have yielded valuable medicinal compounds. Particularly notable are drugs used to treat leukemia and other forms of cancer. Heller’s blazing star has not yet been studied for potentially valuable medicinal or industrial chemicals, in part due to the limited number of plants in existence.

Habitat: Heller’s blazing star is found along high elevation ledges of rock outcrops and cliffs in shallow acid soils.

map of Heller’s Blazing Star distribution in North Carolina

Map of Heller’s Blazing Star distribution in North Carolina.

Distribution: Heller’s blazing star is known from Avery, Ashe, Caldwell, Watauga, and Burke Counties in North Carolina.

Threats: Being confined to small areas on a few rocky mountain summits, this species is extremely vulnerable to such seemingly minor threats as trampling by hikers, climbers, and sightseers, as well as to more pervasive threats such as acid precipitation and other forms of air pollution that have been found to be concentrated at the higher elevations in the Southern Appalachian Mountains. All of these factors threaten the last remaining populations of Heller’s blazing star.

References:

Buchanan, M.F. and J.T. Finnegan. 2010. Natural Heritage Program List of the Rare Plant Species of North Carolina. N.C. Natural Heritage Program, Raleigh, NC.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 1999. Recovery Plan for Liatris helleri Porter (Heller’s Blazing Star). First Revision. Atlanta, GA. 25 pp.

For More Information on Heller’s Blazing Star...

Species Contact:

Mara Alexander, Fish and Wildlife Biologist, 828-258-3939 ext. 238

Species profile revised on September 15, 2011.

Last Updated: November 1, 2012