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Plantain-leaf Pussytoes Antennaria plantaginifolia


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Plantain-leaf Pussytoes
credit: EPA - Great Lakes Image Collection

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Alternate name: Woman's-tobacco

Family: Asteraceae, Aster view all from this family

Description A low, colony-forming plant, spreading by runners, with basal leaves and erect stems, each bearing a terminal cluster of fuzzy, rayless flower heads.
Habit: native perennial herb; unobtrusive; erect downy silver stems rise from a basal rosette; spreads via leafy runners to form mats, sometimes evergreen.
Height: 2.5-16 in (6.5-40 cm)
Leaf: felt-like, becoming green above and silvery beneath; at base, oval to round, usually wooly on top, 3-7 nerved, 1.5-3 in (35-75 mm) long, 0.5-1.5 in (15-35 mm) wide; on stem, alternate, smaller, lance-shaped.
Flower: variable; small, silky, silvery to creamy white to pink, 1/4 in (6 mm) wide; female flowers resemble golf balls, male flowers resemble paws; borne in dense terminal clusters.
Fruit: tiny dry seed tipped with long bristles.

Flower April to June.

Habitat Poor, well-drained soils in full sun: dry open woodlands, meadows, rocky places, fields, hillside pastures, sandstone formations, and tops of banks, ridges, and bluffs; to 5000 ft (1500 m); also cultivated as an ornamental groundcover.

Range Native to eastern half of the U.S., from Maine south to Florida, west to Louisiana, north to Minnesota.

Discussion Also known as: pussytoes, woman's tobacco, ladies' tobacco, everlasting, plantain-leaved everlasting, mouse ear. This species is dioecious, meaning male and the showier female flowers are on different plants. The crowded male flower heads are thought to resemble a cat's paw, hence the common name.

In some species of pussytoes the male flower heads are rare, even unknown, the female flower heads producing seeds without pollination. Most of our many species of Antennaria are difficult to identify, but Plantain-leaf Pussytoes is not a problem, nor is the similar-leaved Single-head Pussytoes (A. solitaria), found from Pennsylvania west to Illinois and south to the Gulf of Mexico; as its common name indicates, each stem bears a single flower head.