The Wrack

The Wrack is the Wells Reserve blog, our collective logbook on the web.

Northern Blazing Star discovered at Wells Reserve

Posted by | November 15, 2007

While marking fields for mowing on the newly acquired Lord Parcel this past August, Reserve Manager Paul Dest was thrilled to discover two stems of the showy yet threatened native plant, the Northern Blazing Star. Paul made sure the lonely stalks were well marked to avoid being mowed over.

The Northern Blazing Star (Liatris scaiosa) is a member of the aster family. It likes dry open grassy habitat and thrives in sandy barrens. It is at its northern most limit in Southern Maine and is found as far south as New Jersey. The largest population anywhere is located quite close by in the Kennebunk Plains. It truly lives up to its name in late July and early August, when the vibrant flowers turn the Plains ablaze in purple.

It may be numerous on the Kennebunk Plains, but actually the Northern Blazing Star is imperiled. This beautiful plant is listed as Threatened in Maine, Endangered in New Hampshire and Rhode Island, and of Special Concern in Massachusetts and Connecticut.

One factor is that it prefers early successional open space and particularly likes habitat subjected to periodic fires. Since natural fires have been widely suppressed and most open habitat is left to grow into mature forest, this special need of the Northern Blazing star requires special management practices. The Kennebunk Plains is actively managed for the Northern Blazing Star by the Nature Conservancy who regularly schedules controlled burns.

This year, while working on a controlled burn in a different field, the fire technicians stopped by the two Liatris stalks and burned an area around each plant to help make it feel at home and hopefully entice them to grow neighbors. This might enable the fields to return to a more native habitat rather than being primarily comprised of introduced agricultural species like it is now.

The Wells Reserve manages open space habitat for a variety of plants and animals. Now we can add the Northern Blazing Star to our list. Who knows, maybe someday soon we will be able to stand at the Webhannet Overlook and see our field ablaze in purple flowers as the late summer sun sets behind the hills.

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