Pussytoes are also known as "Early Everlastings". Field Pussytoes is a native perennial growing from 4 to 16 inches (but usually less than 10 inches) high to the top of the flower stem.
The leaves are both basal and stem. Basal leaves are up to 1/2 inch wide by 2 inches long with a single vein terminating in a small pointed projection beyond the leaf tip. The underside of the leaf is hairy and very pale in color. The upper leaf surface is woolly and dull gray color but with age, the upper surface of leaves in this species may loose the hair and be smooth and green or simply rough-surfaced and green. This leafy base can form dense mats. There are small linear alternate leaves on the flowering stem which is held erect. The upper stem leaves are flagged at the tip (resemble a phyllary tip).
The floral array consists of 1 to 8, 1/3 inch long flower heads in either a stalked array (a panicle) or an unbranched flower stem (a raceme). The flower stem is hairy. With Field Pussytoes the new stems are mostly prostrate with very small leaves that overlap each other at the tip of the shoot. These become erect when there is an inflorescence.
Flowers: Field Pussytoes is dioecious, that is flowers are either male (staminate) or female (pistillate) on separate plants. The head is a slightly different shape in each, but generally somewhat bell shaped with female heads being longer than the male. The corolla of the flowers is white. Each flower cluster has from 20+ small flower heads that are not scented. Around the flower base is a series of phyllaries that have white tips. Each flower has disc florets only, no ray flowers. The male flower stamens are exerted making the head, when in flower, looking like a pin cushion. Female flowers have numerous styles.
Seed: Fertile flowers produce a dry cypsela, 0.9 to 1.4 mm long, that each have tuffs of white bristly hair (pappus) and are wind dispersed as they are very small and light. They need at least 60 days of cold stratification for germination and light for germination, so they should not be covered.
Habitat: The Field Pussytoes fibrous root produces stolons (like a Strawberry plant) that create new plants, forming colonies. Stolons can be 2.5 to 18 cm long in this species. It grows best in fields, woods, prairies and grasslands where there is plenty of sun, but only dry to moderate moisture. It is one of the earliest flowering plants in an upland prairie area.
Names: The genus name Antennaria is derived from two Latin words - antenna and aria. These refer to the resemblance of the male (staminate) flowers where the pappus bristles have a thin filament and club shaped head - resembling the antenna of insects. The species name, neglecta, means ' hitherto overlooked', the reference to which is somewhat obscure but is sometimes used when a species was overlooked in classification. In this case A. neglecta was determined at a later date to be the progenitor of two other well known members of the Antennaria. The common name of pussy toes is due to the resemblance of the open flower heads to a cats toes. The accepted author name for the plant classification - ‘Greene’ refers to Edward Lee Greene (1843-1915), American botanist who wrote Landmarks of Botanical History, named or re-described over 4,400 species of plants in the American west and was the first Professor of Botany at the University of California.
Comparisons: There are five other Pussytoes found in Minnesota - names given below. The distinguishing characteristics of the different species are technical and detailed. Flora of North America provides a good key. (Ref.#W7)
Above: Field Pussytoes grows close to the ground except for the erect stalked array of flowers. Leaves are basal and on the stem.
Above and below: The flower heads of early May from which the common name derives. The corollas are white with pointed lobes. Each flower head can have a number of individual flowers. The female flower heads shown here have many styles.
Below: The flower heads form seeds rapidly as these from late May testify.
Notes: Field Pussytoes is native to almost all counties in Minnesota with only 16 widely scattered exceptions. This species was not on Martha Crone's 1951 inventory of plants in the Garden, although in 1939 it was present as she reported it in bloom and recorded planting it in 1950. It has been planted several times thereafter. This particular group on the central hill of the Upland Garden is relatively new to the Garden as these plants were installed in 2006 by Curator Susan Wilkins.
Species: The various species of Antennaria frequently hybridize with each other. The U of M Herbarium considers the following species to be present in Minnesota: A. howelii, Howell's Pussytoes; A. microphylla, Little-leaf Pussytoes, or Tiny-leaved Pussytoes; A. neglecta, Field Pussytoes; A. parlinii, Parlin's Pussytoes; A. parvifolia, Small-leaved Pussytoes - which is on the state "Special Concern" list; and A. plantaginifolia, Plantain-leaved Pussytoes. Antennaria is a world-wide genus of 45 species with 34 known in North America alone.
Eloise Butler listed in 1907 A. plantaginifolia, Plantain-leaved Pussytoes as indigenous to the Wildflower Garden.
References: Plant characteristics are generally from sources 1A, 32, W2, W3, W7 & W8 plus others as specifically applied. Distribution principally from W1, W2 and 28C. Planting history generally from 1, 4 & 4a. Other sources by specific reference. See Reference List for details.
Friends of the Wild Flower Garden, Inc. Text and photos are by G. D. Bebeau unless otherwise credited. "www.friendsofthewildflowergarden.org"