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K-State Research and Extension News

Some pollinator-friendly flowers make new Prairie Star list

Annual flowers have performed well in Kansas trials for two years.

flowers salviaPhotos and captions available

Released: March 7, 2016

OLATHE, Kan. – Some flowers are just born stars. Say, for instance, the glamorous-sounding “Glitterati Ice Queen” geranium. The flower, along with others that fared well in the Kansas climate for two consecutive years, has been named to the most recent Prairie Star Flower list of recommended annual flowers for Kansas.

To make it to the list, plant breeders from around the world send flower seeds or rooted cuttings to a team at Kansas State University, who start them in greenhouses early in the spring. The plants are transplanted outdoors in different locations around Kansas when the weather warms. They’re evaluated throughout the growing season and ultimately judged on their vigor, flowers and foliage.

To be on the Prairie Star list, a cultivar must perform well for two years, including growing and flowering abundantly with minimal care. That’s not always easy with Kansas’ sometimes challenging temperatures, winds and rainfall, or lack of.

The flowers that made it onto the newest list thrived despite difficult beginnings.

“Last year was a challenging year because of the wetter-than-usual (spring) conditions,” said Robin Ruether, Prairie Star program coordinator based at Kansas State’s Horticulture Research and Extension Center near Olathe. Like many gardeners and landscapers last spring, her team had a difficult time finding conditions dry enough to get the plants in the ground. Some died, some performed ok and others thrived.  

The list includes flower name, cultivar or color, planting location such as “full sun” or “sun or shade,” and average height and width of the plant. It is also categorized into plants for flower display, plants for foliage display and plants for container gardens. 

When asked about trends in flowers, Ruether said pollinator friendly and drought tolerant are traits many gardeners look for.

“There are a few new salvia additions to the list for 2016 that insects really love,” she said, adding that some cultivars of salvia, lantana and gomphrena, as well as the “Mojave” series of portulaca seem to like it hot and dry.

Prairie Star is not a commercial brand or product line, Ruether said. It tells what cultivars to look for, for example a “Surefire Red” begonia, rather than a generic begonia, because not all begonias grow well on the Kansas prairie. Garden centers may not label plants Prairie Star, so she encourages gardeners to print the Prairie Star list and take it plant shopping.

Ruether also writes the Prairie Star blog.


K‑State Research and Extension is a short name for the Kansas State University Agricultural Experiment Station and Cooperative Extension Service, a program designed to generate and distribute useful knowledge for the well‑being of Kansans.  Supported by county, state, federal and private funds, the program has county Extension offices, experiment fields, area Extension offices and regional research centers statewide. Its headquarters is on the K‑State campus in Manhattan.

Story by:
Mary Lou Peter

For more information:
Robin Ruether – 913-856-2335 Ext. 106 or rruether@ksu.edu