Antennaria howellii (Howell's Pussytoes)
|Also known as:||Small Pussytoes|
|Habitat:||part shade, sun; dry fields, prairies, savannas, open woods, rock outcrops, lawns|
|Bloom season:||April - June|
|Plant height:||3 to 14 inches|
|Wetland Indicator Status:||none|
|MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):|
|National distribution (click map to enlarge):|
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Three to 15 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 about 3/8 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 to reddish and firm (somewhat leaf-like) at the base and thin, white to creamy yellow and more petal-like at the tip. Individual flowers are 3.5 to 7 mm (to .28 inch) long and the set of phyllaries (called the involucre) is 6 to 11 mm (max ~3/8 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 6 to 6.5 mm long with individual flowers 3 to 4 mm long.
Leaves and stems:
Leaves are basal and alternate. Basal leaves are ¾ to 2 inches long and up to ¾ inch wide, toothless, mostly narrowly spatula-shaped, sometimes more broadly spoon-shaped, rounded to pointed at the tip, tapering at the base, sometimes abruptly tapering to a winged stalk, and with a single prominent vein, seen on both the front and back of the leaf; sometimes 2 faint lateral veins are also seen on the back. The lower surface is silvery white from dense matted hairs, the upper surface green, hairless to moderately hairy usually becoming hairless. Basal leaves tend to persist to the next season before shriveling up and disintegrating.
Stem leaves are linear, up to 1½ inches long and about 1/8 inch wide, toothless, stalkless, woolly hairy, and widely spaced along the stem. Stem leaves are pointed at the tip, sometimes the upper leaves have a short, papery appendage at the tip, known as a “flag”. Stems are erect, green to reddish, covered in long, white, matted hairs and sometimes glandular hairs. Horizontal, above ground stems (stolons) emerge from basal leaf clumps, spreading in all directions, rooting at the nodes and forming colonies. Leaves along the stolons may be smaller or about as large as leaves in basal clumps. Colonies of male plants may be separate from females or commingled but are usually absent altogether.
Fruit is a brown seed .8 to 2 mm long with a tuft of white hair (pappus) attached to carry it off in the wind. Hairs are 5.5 to 9 mm long. Fruit is produced even when male plants are absent.
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. For the 1-veined species, noting whether males are present can be helpful to an ID, as is examination of the mid and upper stem leaves for a “flag” at the tip (see leaf photo above). Magnification may be required.
In Minnesota, the 1-veined species consist of Field Pussytoes (Antennaria neglecta), Howell's Pussytoes (A. howellii), Small-leaved Pussytoes (A. parvifolia) and Tiny-leaved Pussytoes (A. microphylla). Rosy Pussytoes (A. rosea) has also been reported as present in Minnesota but there are no official records of it. The most similar to A. howellii is A. neglecta; both were treated as the same species for a time so distinguishing them can indeed be challenging.
A. howellii is most consistently distinguished by the combination of: (usually) the absence of flags at the tip of mid and most upper stem leaves, basal leaves mostly green and hairless or moderately hairy on the upper surface but soon becoming smooth, basal leaves may be faintly 3-veined, phyllaries white to creamy yellow at the tip, and usually all-female populations with no males nearby. All other things being equal: if stem leaves are not flagged, or the upper surface of basal leaves is hairless, or mature basal leaves are faintly 3-veined, or phyllary tips are not white, or stolon leaves are about as large as basal leaves, it's probably A. howellii.
There are 4 recognized subspecies of Antennaria howellii; below is the list, with differences from A. neglecta:
- subsp. canadensis: basal leaves bright green and hairless on the upper surface, mid and upper stem leaves may be flagged, stems with mixed glandular and non-glandular hairs; A. neglecta stem leaves are flagged but basal leaves are gray-green and densely hairy on the upper surface, stems lack glandular hairs;
- subsp. neodioica: basal leaves stalked, leaves along the short stolons are nearly as large as basal leaves, uppermost stem leaves (around the clusters) may be flagged; A. neglecta basal leaves gradually taper to a stalkless base, leaves along the stolons are smaller than basal leaves, mid and upper stem leaves are flagged;
- subsp. petaloidea: basal leaves broadest above the middle (obovate to oblanceolate), gradually tapering to a stalkless base, leaves along the rather long stolons are noticeably smaller than basal leaves, stem leaves not flagged; A. neglecta basal and stolon leaves are both similar but stem leaves are flagged;
- subsp. howellii: the only subsp. not recorded in MN (though may be here), has basal leaves hairless on the upper surface, no flags on stem leaves, and phyllaries are white or light brown at the tip; A. neglecta basal leaves are densely hairy, stem leaves are flagged and phyllary tips are all white.
Of the other 1-veined species, A. parvifolia plants are smaller, rarely taller than 4 inches, basal leaves are smaller (all less than 1½ inches long) and more silvery green from denser hairs, and males are very uncommon in Minnesota populations. A. microphylla has the smallest basal leaves of this group, the largest less than 2/3 inch (max 16 mm) long but most ½ inch or less. A. rosea is similar to A. parvifolia but has taller stems and phyllaries are often rosy pink.
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Where to buy native seed and plants ↓
- Howell's Pussytoes plant
- Howell's Pussytoes plants
- male and female Howell's Pussytoes
- a colony of all female plants in a lawn
- Howell's Pussytoes on a rocky shore
- basal leaves can be weakly 3-veined
- thin hairs on upper surface of basal leaf
- subsp. neodioca basal leaves, abruptly tapered to a stalk
- subsp. petaloidea stolon leaves smaller than basal leaves
- stolon leaves about as large as basal leaves
- phyllary tips are white to creamy yellow
Photos by K. Chayka taken in Aitkin, Anoka, Lake, Lake of the Woods, Pine, Renville, Sherburne and Ramsey counties. Photos by Peter M. Dziuk taken in Anoka, Carlton, Itasca, Lake, Lake of the Woods, Otter Tail, and Renville counties.
Have you seen this plant in Minnesota, or have any other comments about it?