Wild Flowers of Pittsburgh


Coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara)

Every year we give the Coltsfoot flowers their honored place among the first wild flowers of spring. Here we have a good collection from a colony growing in open woods in Mount Lebanon, where they were blooming in early April. In these close-up pictures taken just as the flower heads were opening, we can see the individual star-shaped disk flowers clearly.

Gray describes the genus and the species:

TUSSILÀGO [Tourn.] L. COLTSFOOT. Head many-flowered; ray-flowers in several rows, narrowly ligulate, pistillate, fertile; disk-flowers with undivided style, sterile. Involucre nearly simple. Receptacle flat. Achenes slender-cylindric or prismatic; pappus copious, soft, and capillary. — Low perennial, with horizontal creeping rootstocks, sending up scaly scapes in early spring, bearing a single head, and producing rounded heart-shaped angled or toothed leaves later in the season, woolly when young. Flowers yellow. (Name from tussis, a cough, for which the plant is a reputed remedy.)

T. farfara L. — Wet places and along brooks, e. Que. to Pa., O.,and Minn. (Nat. from Eu.)

Orange Hawkweed (Hieracium aurantiacum)

Also called “Devil’s Paintbrush,” on the principle that attributes anything striking or bright in nature to satanic forces. Gray gives us another name, Grim the Collier, that refers to a traditional character who gets the best of the devil in folk tales, putting our subject on the side of good rather than evil.

There is no mistaking this plant for anything else. There are many flowers that look like small dandelions, but only one is bright orange—a rare color among flowers, otherwise represented here mostly by Daylilies and Orange Touch-Me-Nots.

This would be an ordinary dandelion-like weed, except that the flowers are bright orange, making it one of our showiest wild flowers. It is fairly rare in the city of Pittsburgh itself, but begins to be seen in the northern fringes of our area, and becomes quite common farther north in Pennsylvania. This plant was one of a thriving colony in St. Peter’s Cemetery in the Arlington neighborhood of Pittsburgh, where it was blooming in late August.

This species is often placed in the genus Pilosella, but there seems to be much uncertainty. The imperfectly omniscient Wikipedia leads us on a merry chase: Hieracium aurantiacum redirects to Pilosella aurantiaca, but Pilosella redirects to Hieracium. [This has been true for several years now, and we were tempted to correct it, except that we still find it amusing.]

Gray describes the genus and the species:

Heads 12-many-flowered. Involucre more or less imbricated. Achenes short, oblong or columnar, striate, not beaked; pappus a single row of tawny and fragile capillary rough bristles. —Hispid or hirsute and often glandular perennials, with entire or toothed leaves, and single or panicled heads of mostly yellow flowers; summer and early autumn. (Name from hierax, a hawk.)

Flowers orange-red.

H. aurantiacum L. (ORANGE H., DEVIL’S PAINT-BRUSH, GRIM THE COLLIER.) Long-hirsute; leaves oblanceolate, 6-15 cm. long, green on both sides; a stolons numerous, slender; scape 2-6 dm. high, usually 1-2-bracted; heads about 2 cm. broad. Fields, etc., e. Que. to Ont. and Pa., locally too abundant. June, July [but seen in late August and early September in Pittsburgh]. (Nat. from Eu.)

Golden Ragwort (Senecio aureus)


Now Packera aurea, but the old name is so much better known that most Internet searchers are not likely to find an article on “Packera.”

Golden Ragworts are attractive flowers, a bit like a yellow aster, that bloom in the middle spring, just after the tulips in your garden. The heart-shaped basal leaves and the pinnately lobed (rather fern-like) stem leaves are distinctive. They like a somewhat shady location; these were blooming in late May (a little later than usual this year) near a stream in Scott Township.

A peculiar property of Golden Ragworts is their resistance to the autofocus systems on most digital cameras. If one does not resort to manual focus, it takes a great many pictures to get a few that are decently in focus. If you are a graduate student in evolutionary biology, here is a thesis topic for you.

Gray (with help from J. M. Greenman) describes the genus and the species:

SENECIO [Tourn.] L. GROUNDSEL. RAGWORT. SQUAW-WEED. Revised By J. M. Greenman. Heads many-flowered; rays pistillate or none; involucre cylindrical to bell-shaped, simple or with a few bractlets at the base, the bracts erect-connivent. Receptacle flat, naked. Pappus of numerous very soft and capillary bristles.— Ours herbs, with alternate leaves and solitary or eorymbed heads. Flowers chiefly yellow. (Name from senex, an old man, alluding to the hoariness of many species, or to the white hairs of the pappus.)

S. aureus L. (GOLDEN R. ) Stems erect from rather slender rootstocks, 3-8 dm. high, at first often lightly floccose-tomentose, soon glabrate; lower leaves long-petioled, ovate-rotund to slightly oblong, 1.5-8 cm. long, two thirds as broad, crenate-dentate; stem-leaves lyrate to laciniate-pinnatifid; the uppermost sessile, amplexicaul, often bract-like; inflorescence cymose-corymbose; heads radiate; rays yellow; achenes glabrous. — In wet meadows, moist thickets, and swamps, Nfd., s. to Va., w. to Wisc., Mo., and Ark. May-Aug.


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