CPC National Collection Plant Profile

Liatris helleri

Robert Sutter

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CPC National Collection Plant Profile

Liatris helleri

Common Names: 
Heller's blazing-star, Heller's gay-feather
Growth Habit: 
CPC Number: 


Profile Links
 Fish & WildLife
 Forest Service

Liatris hellerienlarge
Photographer: Robert Sutter
Image Owner: North Carolina Natural Heritage Program

Liatris helleri is Not Sponsored
Primary custodian for this plant in the CPC National Collection of Endangered Plants is: 

Liatris helleri

Heller's Blazing Star is an extremely rare and attractive native wildflower. Its habitat consists of rocky outcrops, ledges, cliffs and balds at high elevations in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. It is currently known to grow in only seven locations. Two additional sites have been lost to residential and recreational developments and, in spite of extensive searches, plants have not been seen in these areas for the last fifty years. This species was probably never common due to its restricted and isolated habitat requirements. Because there are so few sites left, Heller’s Blazing Star is most vulnerable to seemingly minor threats such as trampling by hikers, climbers, and sightseers.
Heller’s Blazing Star produces one or more flowering stalks which rise above a rosette of narrow basal leaves. The showy flowering stalk may reach to 40 cm in height and bears gradually diminishing cauline leaves before culminating in a spike of lavender flowers (Kral 1983). This species flowers from July to September (Radford et al. 1964) and fruits from August to October (Massey et al. 1980).

Distribution & Occurrence

State Range
  North Carolina
State Range of  Liatris helleri
  Rocky outcrops, ledges, cliffs and balds at high elevations, often in full sun (USFWS 1989)

  Endemic to the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina (USFWS 1989)

Number Left
  There are only seven known sites supporting Heller’s Blazing Star, several of which are quite small. The smallest has less than a dozen plants. (USFWS 1989)


Global Rank:  
Guide to Global Ranks
Federal Status:  
Guide to Federal Status
Recovery Plan:  

State/Area Protection
  State/Area Rank Status Date  
  North Carolina S2 T-SC 1/1/1999  

Conservation, Ecology & Research

Ecological Relationships
  • Although hymenopterans have been observed visiting the flowers, specific pollinators are not yet known (USFWS 1989).
• Seeds are wind distributed (USFWS 1989).

  The principal threat to this species is trampling by outdoor enthusiasts (Gaddy 1983). Another potential threat is acid precipitation and other forms of atmospheric pollution (USFWS 1989). The forest service, park service, or the Nature Conservancy protects three of the remaining Heller’s Blazing Star sites. Though the remaining four sites are on private land which has been or will be developed for commercial recreation, the landowners are sensitive to the plight of Heller’s Blazing Star and are working with state and federal agencies to protect the species.

Current Research Summary
  Little research has been done on Heller’s Blazing Star, Liatris helleri, and information from work on other related species has been used as a surrogate until L. helleri can be better studied. Work on L. aspera and L. spicata indicates that disturbance might be necessary for the maintenance of these early successional species (Kerster 1968; Roberts et al. 1977). Work on L. cylindracea showed that human trampling was detrimental and that only natural disturbances had a positive effect (Bowles and Maun 1982). In a study on L. pycnostachya, Schall (1978) found that small populations attracted few pollinators. This information may prove important as several of the L. helleri populations are quite small (USFWS 1989).

Dr. Zack Murrell and his students at Appalachian State University are conducting demographic and reproductive biology studies. Some monitoring plots have been established in especially sensitive locations (USFWS 1989).

Current Management Summary
  • At high traffic Heller’s Blazing Star sites, trails have been diverted and boardwalks built to help prevent trampling.
• Seedlings produced in genetic experiments have been returned to the sites from which seeds were collected.

Research Management Needs
  • Very little is known of the population biology or life history of Heller’s Blazing Star. Studies on abiotic factors affecting populations as well as on pollination, competition, the effects of trampling, and of acid rain should be undertaken as well (USFWS 1989).
• Long term protection should be sought for populations on privately owned land.

Ex Situ Needs
  • Seed collections from populations not represented in collection


Books (Single Authors)

Massey, J.R.; Otte, D.K.S.; Atkinson, T.A.; Whetstone, R.D. 1983. An Atlas and Illustrated Guide to the Threatened and Endangered Vascular Plants of the Mountains of North Carolina and Virginia. Asheville, NC: Southeastern Forest Experiment Station. 218p.

Books (Sections)

Kartesz, J.T. 1999. A synonymized checklist of the vascular flora of the U.S., Canada, and Greenland. In: Kartesz, J.T.; Meacham, C.A., editors. Synthesis of the North American Flora, Version 1.0. North Carolina Botanical Garden. Chapel Hill, NC.

Electronic Sources

(2002). NC-ES Plant profiles. [Web pages] North Carolina Ecological Services--U.S. Fish & Wildlife Services--Southeast Region 4. http://nc-es.fws.gov/plant/plant.html. Accessed: 2002.

USFWS. (1990). Endangered and Threatened Species Accounts. [Web page] U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Division of Endangered Species. http://ecos.fws.gov/servlet/TESSSpeciesQuery. Accessed: 2002.

Journal Articles

Bowles, J.; Maun, M.A. 1982. The effects of trampling on the vegetation of lake Huron sand dunes at Pinery Provincal Park, Ontario, Canada. Biological Conservation. 24, 4: 273-284.

Godt, M.J.W.; Hamrick, J.L. 1995. The Mating System of Liatris helleri (Asteraceae), a Threatened Plant-Species. Heredity. 75: 398-404.

Godt, M.J.W.; Hamrick, J.L. 1996. Genetic diversity and morphological differentiation in Liatris helleri (Asteraceae), a threatened plant species. Biodiversity and Conservation. 5, 4: 461-471.

Kerster, H. 1968. Population and age structure in the prairie forb Liatris aspera. BioScience. 18, 2: 430-432.

Porter, T.C. 1891. A new Liatris from North Carolina. Rhodora. 18: 147-148.

Roberts, T.; Robson, T.; Catling, P.M. 1977. Factors maintaining a disjunct community of Liatris spicata and other prairie species in Ontario, Canada. Canadian Journal of Botany. 55, 5: 593-605.

Schall, B. 1978. Density dependent foraging on Liatris pycnostachya. Evolution. 32, 3: 452-454.

Sutter, R.D.; Benjamin, S.E.; Murdock, N.; Teague, B. 1993. Monitoring the Effectiveness of a Boardwalk at Protecting a Low Heath Bald in the Southern Appalachians. Natural Areas Journal. 13, 4: 250-255.

USFWS. 1987. Determination of threatened status for Liatris helleri. Federal Register. 52, 223: 44397-44401.

USFWS. 1987. Final Listing Rules Approved for 10 Species. Endangered Species Technical Bulletin. 12, 11-12: 8.

USFWS. 1987. Several Southeastern Plants Proposed for Listing. Endangered Species Technical Bulletin. 12, 3: 1.

USFWS. 1988. Regional News--Region 4 & 6. Endangered Species Technical Bulletin. 13, 5: 11.

Magazine Articles

Morse, L.E. 1988. Rare Plants of Appalacian Bedrock. The Nature Conservancy Magazine: 38.


1995. 1995 Annual report on taxa in the national collection for North Carolina Botanical Garden. Annual report to the Center for Plant Conservation. p.1.

Gaddy, L. 1983. An inventory of the endangered and threatened plants of the Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests, NC. Atlanta, GA: Report submitted to the U.S. Forest Service.

Kral, R. 1983. A report on some rare, threatened, of endangered forest-related vascular plants of the south. Atlanta, GA: USDA Forest Service, Southeast Region. Technical Publication R8-TP2.

Massey, J.R.; Whitson, P.; Atkinson, T. 1980. Endangered and threatened plant survey of 12 species in the eastern part of Region 4. Report submitted to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Region 4, under contract 14-16-004-78-108.

Sutter, R.D.; Frantz, V.; McCarthy, K.A. 1987. Atlas of rare and endangered plant species in North Carolina. Raleigh, NC: North Carolina Dept. Agriculture, Plant Protection Section, Conservation Program. p.174.

Sutter, Robert D.; Murdock, Nora. 1984. Taxonomic analysis of Liatris helleri : a North Carolina endemic. Asheville; North Carolina: Plant Conservation Program; U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.; Endangered Species Field Office (Asheville, N.C.). p.6.

Teague, Bambi; McElrath, Lillian. 1993. Distribution and status of Heller's blazing star (Liatris helleri Porter) on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Asheville, N.C.: Blue Ridge Parkway. p.7.

USFWS. 1989. Heller's Blazing Star Recovery Plan. Atlanta, Georgia: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. p.24.

USFWS. 2000. Recovery Plan for Liatris helleri Porter (Heller's Blazing Star). First Revision. Atlanta, Georgia: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. p.25.

  This profile was updated on 3/4/2010
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