Coltsfoot

By William T. Hathaway

Coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara)

When thinking about wildflower distribution, an interesting species comes to mind. In 1970 I photographed the coltsfoot near the entrance to the fire tower road on the Bedford side of Smith Mountain. In the following years of roaming throughout Pittsylvania County I had not listed this coltsfoot among our county flora. A couple of years ago a fairly bright student commented on one of our school field trips, “Hey, Mr. Hathaway, look at that dandelion that ain't a dandelion.” Sure enough, he was right. Along the edge of a hillside road just south of Billy Johnson's mill was this sprawling patch of coltsfoot. I now gloated privately over the joy of adding the coltsfoot to our county flora. The coltsfoot's late March blooming season allowed it to be added to our special list of early spring wildflowers.

The scientific name (Tussilago farfara) sent me to research Gray's Manual of Botany. It seems that the coltsfoot was introduced from Europe and is rapidly spreading from north to south within the eastern states. The generic name, Tussilago, is derived from the Latin name for a cough, for which the plant has long been a reputed remedy. The specific name, farfara, is the Latin name for coltsfoot. The yellow dandelion-like flowers and leaf shape are sure identification features — the tendency to grow along roadsides is unique.



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