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Posts Tagged ‘pussytoes’

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I’m pleased to say that Willow House Chronicles is represented in this month’s Berry-Go-Round with my May 17th post about pussytoes (Antennaria neglecta). The Berry-Go-Round is a blog carnival dedicated to highlighting posts about interesting aspects of plant life. This month’s Berry-Go-Round # 40 is hosted by Sitca Nature. For a look at a cornucopia of posts covering everything from orchids to wild coffee, follow the link to Sitca Nature and enjoy.

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For the last couple of weeks, I have enjoyed seeing patches of pussytoes (Antennaria neglecta) along the roadside. Unlike coltsfoot, another early spring wildflower, pussytoes are native to North America and can be found across Canada and the northern states. It is easy to see how they come by their name. Each stem holds a cluster of small fuzzy heads that can readily be envisioned as the digits of felines. Pussytoes are members of the aster family, and each flowerhead is actually a composite of many tiny flowers growing together on mass.

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Pussytoes spread by rhizomes, so a clump is composed of clones of the original plant. They are diecious, meaning that female flowers and male flowers grow on separate plants. Thus, a clump of pussytoes contains either all male or all female flowers. The female flowers don’t require male flowers to reproduce and in the absence of nearby male plants, can still produce seed. This process is termed parthenogenesis, a name derived from the Greek for virgin birth.

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The male staminate plants can be identified by their orange-brown anthers protruding out above the flowers like an insect’s antennae, presumably the source of the scientific name, Antennaria. As for the species name, neglecta, one source I came across suggested it reflected the fact that the flowers are easily overlooked, or neglected. A more convincing version stated that botanists named the species neglecta because its status as a separate species was overlooked for many years. Not until 1897 was the plant officially described for science by Edward Greene (1843-1915), first professor of botany at the University of California.

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One of the earliest wildflowers to bloom, even before the ubiquitous dandelion, is Coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara). Its cheery yellow face brightens patches of barren ground along roadsides before most other plants have even though about blooming. This tough little plant is a native of Europe. It’s ability to thrive in rough, inhospitable areas has allowed this member of the aster family to find a niche for itself in its adopted land. Birdgirl did a nice post about Coltsfoot over at The Marvelous in Nature, so I’ll leave you to check out Sunshine in a Bed of Leaves if you’d like to learn more about it.

Another spring bloomer that reminds me of Coltsfoot is (are?) Field Pussytoes (Antennaria neglecta). Pussytoes are also a member of the aster family, although unlike Coltsfoot, they are native to North America. Pussytoes are more subtle than Coltsfoot, and feature small, woolly white flowers that do indeed bear a resemblance to feline toes. Pussytoes favor dry, sandy ground in open fields, and like Coltsfoot, may sometimes be found growing in clumps along the roadside.

Pussytoes, and closely-related species such as Pearly Everlasting (Anaphalis margaritacea), are unusual in producing male and female flowers separately on different plants. They usually grow in unisexual clonal patches that arise from stolens, creeping horizontal stems. Like Pearly Everlasting, Pussytoes are a caterpillar food for the American Lady butterfly (Vanessa virginiensis).

John Eastman, in The Book of Field and Roadside, notes that in English-speaking countries there is a certain “botany of cute”, which is particularly noteworthy in the vernacular names of wildflowers. Further, there is a subcategory of foot-cute, and Coltsfoot and Pussytoes have in common membership in this group!

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