Whenever cat’s ear (Hypochaeris radicata) is blooming, the shear abundance, and beauty of its bright yellow blooms dominates the landscape. Currently cat’s ear is blooming in lawns, along road shoulders, and scores of other places across the Middle Georgia. Since it grows throughout much of eastern North America, it may be growing in your corner of the world too. However, in spite of the fact that it so abundant, I suspect when most folks see large stands of cat’s ear waving in the spring breeze, they think they are actually looking a patches of dandelions.
From a distance, this wildflower looks much like a tall dandelion, however, there several differences between the two plants. Here are a couple of things to look for that will help you tell a cat’s ear from a dandelion. The flowering stalks of a true dandelion are unbranched and hollow; those of the cat’s ear are branched and solid. In addition, the cat’s ear leaves are hairy while those of the dandelion are smooth.
Many also call cat’s ear false dandelion. However, most folks familiar with the plant refer to it as cat’s ear. The plant got its name from the hairs found on the plant’s leaves. These hairs are supposed to resemble the true hairs found in a domestic cat’s ear.
This wildflower is not native to the Peach State. It is actually an import from the Old World and North Africa.
In spite of its abundance, the plant does not provide an abundance of food for pollinators. While cat’s ear blossoms are occasionally visited by butterflies, they most often provide pollen and nectar for native bees. I find one of the plant’s most interesting traits is that it opens and closes its flower every day. Each morning the blossoms remain closed until the stand receives around an hour of sunlight. They the close again late in the afternoon. Back in the day, some farmers would say that it was not time to begin haying until the plant’s blossoms open. Then at the end of the day, the closure of the blooms signaled the time to quit haying.
My yard is full of cat’s ears. If you haven’t treated your lawn with a herbicide, I suspect cat’s ear growing in your yard too.