Archive for April 23rd, 2010

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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