Antennaria plantaginifolia (Plantain-leaved Pussytoes)
|Also known as:
|Woman's Tobacco, Plain-leaf Pussytoes
|part shade, sun; dry; open woods, thickets, bluffs
|April - June
|4 to 9 inches
|Wetland Indicator Status:
|MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):
|National distribution (click map to enlarge):
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Four to 17+ flower heads in a flat to rounded cluster at the top of the stem, with separate male and female flowers on separate plants. Female flower heads are ¼ to 1/3 inch long and look like little shaving brushes, with numerous thread-like styles at the top and the head surrounded by a series of bracts (called phyllaries), each phyllary green and firm (somewhat leaf-like) at the base and thin and white (more petal-like) at the tip. Individual flowers are 3 to 4 mm (to 1/6 inch) long and the set of phyllaries (called the involucre) is 5 to 7 mm (max .28 inch) long at maturity.
The male flowers are less furry looking, in rounded heads with scaly white flowers that have a brown column of stamens protruding from the center. The involucre on male flower heads is 5 to 7 mm long with individual flowers 2 to 4 mm long.
Leaves and stem:
Leaves are basal and alternate. Basal leaves are 1¼ to 3 inches long and up to 1½ inches wide, toothless, broadly spoon or spatula-shaped, rounded at the tip, tapering to a winged stalk, and with 3 to 5 prominent veins (rarely 7) that are most easily seen on the back of the leaf. The lower surface is silvery white from dense matted hairs, the upper surface gray-green and also covered in matted white hairs but more thinly hairy than the lower surface. Basal leaves tend to persist to the next season before shriveling up and disintegrating.
Stem leaves are lance-linear, up to 1½ inches long and about ¼ inch wide, toothless, stalkless, woolly hairy, and widely spaced along the stem. Stems are erect, green to reddish, covered in long, white, matted hairs. Horizontal, above ground stems (stolons) emerge from basal leaf clumps, spreading in all directions, initially ascending then become prostrate, rooting at the nodes and forming colonies. Colonies of male plants tend to be separate from females, but are close by.
Fruit is a brown seed .5 to 1.6 mm long with a tuft of white hair (pappus) attached to carry it off in the wind. Hairs are 3.5 to 5.5 mm long.
There are 6 species of Pussytoes in Minnesota and they are a tough group, but generally put into two categories: those with a single prominent vein on basal leaves (most easily seen on the back of a mature leaf), and those with 3 (or more) prominent veins. Note that early leaves even on some 1-veined species may have faint lateral veins which can make identification questionable, in which case examining any old basal leaves persisting from the previous season might help make a more confident determination.
In the case of Plantain-leaved Pussytoes, in Minnesota only Parlin's Pussytoes (Antennaria parlinii) also has 3+ prominent veins and the two are similar in most other respects as well, which makes them easily confused. It doesn't help that these two species were considered vars of a single species for a time. That fact is evident in the Bell Herbarium records as well—the current records put both species widespread in the state when more recent research limits A. plantaginifolia to the driftless area in our southeast counties. This won't be corrected until some adventurous soul examines all of the old specimens and makes changes accordingly, though the vast majority of current A. plantaginifolia records should become A. parlinii.
Besides the location within or outside the driftless area, the most notable differences between A. plantaginifolia and A. parlinii are in the flower sizes and hairiness of basal leaves. The leaf difference is the more subtle distinction, with the upper surface of A. plantaginifolia usually more woolly and gray-green where A. parlinii is often (not always) more green, sometimes hairless (subsp. parlinii) or initially hairy and may become hairless with age (subsp. fallax). Flower and fruit sizes are a more consistent difference, with all parts of A. plantaginifolia smaller than A. parlinii—female involucre 5 to 7 mm (max .28 inch) vs. 7 to 13 mm (max .5 inch), seeds .5 to 1.6 mm vs. 1 to 2 mm, pappus 3.5 to 5.5 mm vs. 5 to 8 mm. A metric ruler may be helpful. Also, A. plantaginifolia male plants are almost always present where A. parlinii males may or may not.
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- a group of female plants
- a group of male plants
- hairs on upper surface of basal leaf
- basal leaf veins are best seen on the underside
- emerging in early spring among old leaf clumps
- comparison of Antennaria plantaginifolia and A. parilinii flower heads
Photos by Peter M. Dziuk taken in Houston County.
Have you seen this plant in Minnesota, or have any other comments about it?