What is Antennaria? (with picture)

Anna Harrison
Anna Harrison
Deer eat the flowers and leaves of the antennaria.
Deer eat the flowers and leaves of the antennaria.

Antennaria is a species of perennial, herbaceous plant in the Asteraceae family and is the most diversified genus of plants in North America. Common names for this plant include pussytoes, catsfoot and everlasting. Flowers of this plant are either white, red or pink and bloom in spring above fuzzy, grayish leaves. While this wildflower is native to the milder areas of the United States and Mexico, it has spread and become naturalized throughout the colder areas of North America, too.

This plant was given the name antennaria because the long flower stamens look like insect antennae. The familiar name pussytoes probably refers to the flowers, which resemble the furry pads of a cat’s foot.

Many varieties of antennaria are alpine in habit, growing less than 1 foot (30 cm) tall, though a few can reach as much as 2 feet (about 61 cm). All types have odd, fluffy looking flowers that are far from showy. They are held well above the leaves on stiff stems. Individual plants are dioecious, meaning they are either male or female. The male plants usually have shorter flower stems and smaller flowers.

In its natural environment, antennaria can handle a wide range of growing conditions. This tough plant will grow in wooded areas, dry meadows, rocky glades, and along roadsides in all but extremely wet soil. They are often planted in wildflower gardens and in crevices of rock gardens, and also are planted over spring flower bulbs. While antennaria does not multiply excessively in any area, it does send out small rootlets that will form into small colonies of mat-like plants.

Growing antennaria from cuttings is fairly difficult, though dipping the leaf stems in root hormone powder before planting may encourage them to root. Starting these plants from seed takes patience, with the seeds taking as long as two months to germinate. Plants can be increased by division, though once they are established they form a deep tap root, similar to the dandelion, which can make them difficult to dig up.

Antennaria is visited by many types of insects and animals. Bees, flies, butterflies and hummingbirds are all attracted to the flowers, and it is a feeder plant for the caterpillar of the American Painted Lady butterfly. Deer and rabbits eat the flowers and leaves and can cause significant damage to the plants. Bobwhites, a North American quail, also love to dine on antennaria seeds.

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    • Deer eat the flowers and leaves of the antennaria.
      Deer eat the flowers and leaves of the antennaria.