Plant of the Week
Rosy Pussytoes (Antennaria rosea)
By Larry Stritch
Children generally see the resemblance of the inflorescence to the paws of their kitty cat before their parents do so. Pussytoes are one of the best wildflowers to introduce children to the wonder and beauty of our native wildflowers.
Rosy pussytoes are commonly encountered through out the mountainous areas of the western United States, the northern Great Plains, and Alaska.
Rosy pussytoes, as well as several other species of pussy-toes, make an excellent choice for a native wildflower groundcover. They form wonderful, evergreen mats covering the ground throughout the four seasons. Each colony of pussytoes is a “clone” with all the plants connected to one another by underground rhizomes. New leaves that unfold in the spring are densely, downy pubescent. Gradually through the year and into the following winter the leaves lose this lustrous covering of white hairs giving the colony a two-tone appearance the following spring. The flowers of rosy pussytoes are the most beautiful of all the pussytoes. In the spring, leafy flower stalks arise from the centers of the older rosettes. The leaf stalks are densely pubescent. The flowers are set atop this stalk and give the appearance of a cat’s toes. The flowers are inconspicuous, yellow surrounded by rose-colored bracts; hence, the common name rosy pussytoes. Interestingly, seeds may be set without sexual recombination (apomitic reproduction). In fact, when you look at the flowers of a group of pussytoes colonies male plants are much less common.
For gardeners interested in native plants for butterfly and pollinator gardens, rosy pussytoes is a host plant for the caterpillars (larvae) of the American Lady butterfly (Vanessa virginiensis). So do not be alarmed when you notice the black, bristly caterpillars in large numbers devouring your beautiful native wildflower. In 10 to 14 days, they will be gone and the plants will recover quite nicely. Take advantage of this teachable moment to explain the life cycle of a butterfly with a child. The awe and respect of nature is a lesson learned early in one’s life.
Pussytoes, in general, will grow in average, well-drained garden soil. It does want to be exposed to full sunlight and will not thrive if shaded by other plants. Rosy pussytoes makes a great addition to a rock garden where its groundcover growth form lends beauty and interest to your rock garden as the colonies of rosy pussytoes cascades over rocks.