CAT’S EAR Hypochaeris radicata
When God pronounced the penalty for Adam’s sin, He said Adam was to till the ground, and that “both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you”(Gen. 3:18).
This wildflower we examine today is a troublesome weed, and how troublesome we will see later. Some wet years it seems to be quite abundant, though it favors dry weather. During several past springs, our local fields have been turned into masses of its tall yellow dandelion-like blooms.
Cat’s ear blooms look like tall dandelions. Its leaves are deeply divided and sharp like those of the dandelion. It forms seeds and distributes them on the wind like the dandelion does. Even the sap that oozes from a broken stem is a milky substance, similar to the dandelion. But it’s not even in the same family as the common dandelion (Taraxicum officinale).
Closer examination reveals the cat’s ear is a much more erect plant with a fibrous stem compared to the hollow ones of the dandelion. The habitats differ, also. Cat’s ear shares lawns and gardens but goes where dandelions fear to tread, that is, roadsides, and dry sandy places. The common dandelions prefer moist environs.
Cat’s ear has a slightly different growing season from the dandelion. Dandelions start in March, while cat’s ears appear a month or two later. Dandelions may bloom into September while cat’s ears are most abundant April through July and then only sporadically until frost.
Once the weather becomes hot, cat’s ears bloom early in the day and by noon either turn loose their seeds to the wind or the heads close.
Both weeds fulfill the Genesis curse of the fields, “thorns and thistles it shall grow for you.” Young and tender dandelion leaves have been used as a salad enhancer, but no similar usage has been noted for cat’s ear leaves. For that matter, cat’s ear has many coarse bristles that irritate the stomachs of cows and horses.
The only farm animal that will control the cat’s ear population is the goat. Since not many of us have goats, the best control is mowing before the seeds form and are scattered by the wind.
Orrin Morris is a retired Baptist minister, local artist and art teacher. To purchase a two-volume set of books featuring his wildflower columns, visit the Nature Seen Gallery & Frame Shop, 914 Center St. in Olde Town Conyers, or call 770-929-3697 or text 404-824-3697. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.