Pussytoes (Indian Tobacco)

Antennaria parlinii

pussytoes_4-6-12.jpg

Photo of pussytoes showing fuzzy white flowering heads
Julianna Schroeder
Family

Asteraceae (daisies; sunflowers)

Description

A densely hairy perennial plant. The fuzzy flower heads account for the name pussytoes. Flower heads in tight clusters at the tips of stalks, white to off-white; the plants are either male or female (the plants are dioecious). Styles of female florets are often crimson. Blooms April-June. Leaves are both basal and cauline (on the stems). The basal leaves are paddle-shaped on long stems with 3 prominent ribs, appear usually after flowering has started. Cauline leaves few, almost linear, short.

Similar species: Field pussytoes (A. neglecta) looks very similar, but its leaves are much smaller and have only one central vein. Look for it in fields, prairies, and open woods in northern, western, and central Missouri.

Size

Height: to 10 inches.

Habitat and conservation

Occurs on dry, rocky, often wooded slopes on acid soils; medium to dry upland forests, upland prairies, savannas, and ledges and tops of bluffs; also in glades, ditches, banks of streams and rivers, along margins of ponds and lakes, pastures, roadsides, and open, disturbed areas. This plant is an indicator of acid soil. It is also one of the few flowering plants in our state that lives will in dry, shaded habitats.

image of Pussytoes Indian Tobacco distribution map
Distribution in Missouri

Statewide.

Human connections

Pussytoes, with its unusual flowers, can be cultivated as a groundcover or rock garden plant in difficult dry but shady areas. It had medicinal uses for Native Americans.

Ecosystem connections

Plants in this genus can be rather difficult to identify, because they tend to hybridize and create unique new genetic combinations. Botanists have been studying the various types of pussytoes, trying to determine which forms merit distinction as subspecies and which are simply strange hybrids.