Plant of the Week
Hoary Puccoon (Lithospermum canescens)
By Christopher David Benda
This perennial wildflower is called hoary puccoon. It is in the Borage family (Boraginaceae). The name “Lithospermum” means “rock seed,” referring to the shiny, white, rock-hard seeds. The species epithet “canescens” means “hoary,” referring to the downy appearance of the leaves. The name “Puccoon” comes from the word “poughkone,” which is the name given to this plant by the Powhatan tribe who used the roots to make a red dye.
This herbaceous plant produces clumps of short stems. The leaves are sessile, oblong to elliptic, and hairy. There are usually many leaves on the stems, and this plant is easy to identify without flowers because of its short, clumping stature and soft-hairy leaves.
However, the presence of flowers makes this plant all the more beautiful. Short racemes of flowers bloom at the ends of the stems. There are five, yellowish-orange petals that are somewhat funnelform. The number of flowers produced is variable, but usually the healthier plants are the ones able to dedicate precious energy reserves to producing flowers. The flowers contain both male and female sex organs, although sometimes the male portions (anthers) are on long stalks and other times the female portions (styles) occur on long stalks. The calyx has five lobes, and the length of the lobes can distinguish between similar looking species. A variety of bees, butterflies, and skippers visit the flowers.
This is one of the first wildflowers to bloom in open habitats like prairies, glades, savannas, and woodlands. It is extremely difficult to propagate this species from seed and so it is seldom seen in restorations. It is common in the Midwest, from the Dakotas to Arkansas, and east to Virginia.