Pussytoes: An Inconspicuous Little Plant

Ladies’ tobacco, Plantain-leaved everlasting, Plantain-leaved pussytoes, Pussytoes are common names for Antennaria plantaginifolia, an inconspicuous little plant in the Aster family.  It thrives in full sun and is perfectly suited for poor dry rocky soils.  Paddle shaped leaves are reminiscent of the common plantain (Plantago major) except they are hairy  leaves with three to five parallel veins.  The flower itself stands no higher than 6” tall and resembles a cats paw, hence the common name pussytoes or perhaps as the scientific name suggests an antenna.  The flower has no apparent smell yet attracts a surprising assortment of bees and other pollinators.  

A species of mining bee (Andrena spp.) in the Adirondacks

Like many spring blooming plants the flowers can be wind pollinated, insect pollinated or even self pollinated.  The plants are dioecious, meaning some plants are female while other flowers are male.  Cross pollination ensures genetic diversity but the plant can also reproduce by creating clones from stolons, horizontal stems above ground that root at nodes, similar to strawberries.   

Tri-Colored Bumble Bee (Bombus ternarius) next to a species of mining bee (Andrena spp.) in the Adirondacks

This under appreciated plant is often overlooked by backyard gardeners and probably considered a weed by many.  Nevertheless, pollinators certainly love it.  From the Adirondacks to the Hudson Valley bees of all shapes and sizes are drawn to the flowers that must contain a bounty of nectar and pollen.  Since it blooms in the spring it attracts a variety of mining bees (Andrena spp.), sweat bees (Halictus spp.) and even bumble bees (Bombus spp.).  

Metallic Green Sweat Bee (Halictus spp.) in Stewart Forest, Hudson Valley

The plant is also one of the host plants for the caterpillar of the American painted lady (Vanessa virginiensis) butterfly.  Other acceptable host plants include burdock and ironweed.  

Nomada Cuckoo Bee in Adirondacks