We have always wanted to write a page about a plant with a silly common name like “Pussytoes”. Yes, this is not made up. The common name comes from the flowers which allegedly look like cat feet (though not really like our cat’s foot). Relatives of dandelions, the Latin genus, Antennaria, means “feeler”. It comes from the antenna-like hairs that can form on some of the flowers.
One name, many plants
There are at least 10 species of Pussytoes that can be found in these parts. The common names for these vary a lot, but include Alpine, Field, Low, Nuttall’s, Racemose, Rosy, Showy, Umber, Woodrush and Wooly. Many of these species can form seeds without pollination – meaning the offspring are genetically identical to the parent plant. Create the slightest genetic mix up and you get a new variant within the same species. Which means, in short, there could be thousands of kinds of Pussytoes. They are often given the common name as “Everlasting,” because the flowers appear early in the spring and stay around until the snow falls. Cut and dried, pussytoes will last a very long time (but no cutting the ones in K-Country).
Pick a colour
Antennaria species flowers can be white and compact, white and fuzzy, slightly yellow, pinkish, quite red, and a whole lot of tones in between. Some species prefer dry conditions, but others prefer moist or woody or grassy or low elevation or high. This means you can find them all over Kananaskis. It’s not uncommon to find 2 or more different species growing almost side by side. Clear identification is often difficult. You can readily purchase native species (Showy, mostly) from native plant dealers. They will easily grow in your garden anywhere in the province.
The flowers sit at the end of a long wispy, weak stem, so they can stand tall but they flop over easily. The flower stems on some species are only 4” tall. Showys are one of the tallest, and can be a foot or more. The flowers sit on a squat bed of silvery green and usually fuzzy leaves.
Different species grow from Alaska to New Mexico. Native North Americans used some in smoking mixtures, and chewed some as gum.
See more of the beautiful flowers of K-Country here!