Plantain-Leaved Pussytoes
Antennaria plantaginifolia
Aster family (Asteraceae)

Description: This native perennial plant is up to 6" tall (rarely taller), consisting of a basal rosette of leaves and an erect stem bearing the inflorescence. Species in this genus are dioecious, with individual plants bearing either staminate or pistallate flowers. The basal leaves are up to 4" long and 2" across. They have long petioles and are obovate (spoon-like) in shape, with smooth margins. There are 3-5 conspicuious veins on their upper surface, while their lower surface is densely hairly. The central stem is covered with numerous white hairs. Sparse alternate leaves clasp this stem, which are lanceolate and greatly reduced in size. At the apex is a small cluster of about 5-6 pistillate or staminate flowerheads. Each head is about ¼–½" long, and has a fluffy white appearance. There is no noticeable floral scent. The flowers are normally pollinated by wind or insects, but are also capable of self-pollination. The blooming period occurs during mid- to late spring and lasts about 3 weeks. The achenes develop into small brown nutlets with white resinous dots, to which small tufts of white hairs are attached. They are distributed by the wind. The flower-bearing part of the plant dies down during the summer, but the rosette of basal leaves persists. Occasionally, stolons emerge from the basal rosette that develop plantlets a short distance from the mother plant. There is a strong tendency to form colonies, sometimes consisting of all male or female plants. This is partly the result of vegetative reproduction, and partly the result of allelopathic chemicals that inhibit the germination and development of neighboring plants.

Cultivation: The preference is full or partial sun, and average to dry conditions. This plant often flourishes in poor soil, which can contain sand, rocky material, or clay. This is because there is less competion from taller plants. The new growth during the spring doesn't persist long enough to be bothered by disease, although the semi-evergreen basal leaves often become discolored and withered.

Range & Habitat: Plantain-Leaved Pussytoes has been reported in most of the counties in Illinois (see Distribution Map). This is a fairly common plant, although easy to overlook when it isn't in bloom. Habitats include mesic to dry black soil prairies, openings in upland forests, thickets, bluffs, limestone glades, pastures, and abandoned fields. It usually doesn't stray far from wooded habitats.

Faunal Associations: The flowers are visited primarily by small bees and flies. Among the bees, this includes Andrenid bees, Halictid bees, and Nomadine Cuckoo bees. Fly visitors consist primarily of Syrphid flies, and to a lesser extent Flesh flies, Blow flies, Muscid flies, and others. The caterpillars of the butterfly Vanessa virginiensis (American Painted Lady) feed on the foliage. To a limited extent, the Bobwhite eats the seeds, while the White-Tailed Deer and Cottontail Rabbit browse on the foliage.

Photographic Location: The photographs were taken along a path at Busey Woods in Urbana, Illinois.

Comments: Plantain-Leaved Pussytoes can be readily distinguished from Antennaria neglecta (Field Pussytoes) by its basal leaves. The latter has basal leaves that are single-veined and more narrow. Field Pussytoes is also more typical of open habitats, rather than woodland areas. Some authorities state that these plants are wind-pollinated, while others emphasize the role of insects in cross-pollination.