Heller's Blazing Star
Heller's Blazing Star
|Listed||November 19, 1987|
|Description||Branching perennial herb with linear, pale green leaves and lavender flowers.|
|Habitat||Rocky outcrops in mixed pine and hardwood forests.|
|Threats||Plant succession, recreational use of habitat.|
Heller's blazing star, Liatris helleri, is a perennial herb with one or more erect or arching stems. The stems reach up to 16 in (40.6 cm) in height and are topped by a showy spike of lavender flowers from July through September. Although the taxonomy of the genus is complex, Heller's blazing star can be distinguished from similar species of Liatris by its lower, stockier growth form.
Heller's blazing star grows in shallow, acidic soil at high elevations on rocky outcrops and ledges within an alpine forest of mixed pines and hard-woods. It requires full sunlight.
Nine populations of this species have been found in western North Carolina. Of these, a population in Watauga County and one in Mitchell County have died out.
Seven populations of Heller's blazing star survive. The population center is Avery County, where four sites are known. Caldwell, Ashe, and Burke Counties each support a single colony. Most populations consist of fewer than 50 plants.
Never very numerous, Heller's blazing star has declined primarily because of natural plant succession. Woody growth has encroached upon several sites, shading out the blazing star. Surviving plants have suffered from increased human disturbance. Four privately owned sites have been developed as commercial recreation facilities. This has meant construction of numerous trails and an influx of hikers, who have inadvertently damaged or destroyed plants. As housing is added to these developments, Heller's blazing star could be forced out completely.
Conservation and Recovery
Two populations occur on public lands along the scenic Blue Ridge Parkway in Pisgah National Forest, which attracts large numbers of visitors each year. Park resource management staff have cooperated with U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) personnel to redesign trails and walkways near Grandfather Mountain to limit disturbance to the plant. In addition, several monitoring plots have been established to measure the effects of increased visitor traffic in the park. A single site owned by the Nature Conservancy remains completely undisturbed.
In 1994, nearly 3,000 seedlings were returned to wild populations in North Carolina. Seeds were collected from these populations as part of a genetic research project conducted by the University of Georgia with FWS funding. The seedlings were byproducts from the research project.
The North Carolina Arboretum in Asheville held the seedlings over the winter until they were ready to be transplanted into the wild. Employees of the National Park Service (Blue Ridge Parkway), U.S. Forest Service, and FWS Asheville Field Office, along with several volunteers, donated time on their days off for the transplanting. The seedlings will significantly augment the seven Heller's blazing star populations.
Regional Office of Endangered Species
U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service
1875 Century Blvd., Suite 200
Atlanta, Georgia 30345
Cronquist, A. 1980. Vascular Flora of the Southeastern U.S.; Volume 1, Asteraceae. University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill.
Gaiser, L. O. 1946. "The Genus Liatris." Rhodora 48:572-576.
Radford, A. E., H. E. Ahles, and C. R. Bell. 1964. Manual of the Vascular Flora of the Carolinas. University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill.