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flat weed

Scientific Name

Hypochoeris radicata L.

Common Names

catsear, common catsear, flatweed, false dandelion, long-rooted catsear, hawkweed, rooted catsear, dandelion

Origin

A native of Europe, Asia and North Africa

Family

Habit

It is a perennial herb that grows from 15 to 80cm in height. A rosette-forming herb (a cluster of leaves at the base of a plant often lying flat against the ground) with shallowly divided leaves lying flat on the ground. The stems are erect with a yellow, terminal flower.

Habitat

It is found most commonly in cooler to temperate areas of Australia. Often found in drier areas as its deep taproot tends to give it drought resistance. It tolerates a wide range in soil types, texture and pH. Grows mainly on sandy to sandy clay loam red and red brown earths; also on shallow stony soils of hillsides, less frequent on grey clay soils. It does not however tolerate poorly drained soils. It is most often found in pastures, cultivation, lawns, fallow paddocks, disturbed areas, roadsides and waste places.

General Description

Stems and Leaves:

The first leaves (cotyledons) are club-shaped, with a round apex, and hairless. The mature leaves grow to 15 to 20cm long. The leaves are arranged in a basal rosette and are hairy with toothed or irregularly lobed margins. The basal leaves are obovate in shape and are 5-20cm long and 10-40mm wide with toothed margins that are deeply wavy. The basal leaves are also densely hairy, rarely glabrous (without hairs or scales), and are sessile (without a stalk). The upper leaves if present are similar and reduced in size as they go up the stem. Leaves emit a milky sap when broken. It has leafless flower stalks (scapes) with 2 to 7 flowers on each stalk. The flower stalks also emit a milky sap when broken.

Flowers and Fruit:

The flowerheads (capitula) are solitary on branched stems. The flowerheads are up to 5-15mm in diameter with bracts 2.5cm long and yellow ligulate florets. The achene (a dry indehiscent 1-seeded fruit) is orange-brown and is 4-7mm long, has fine, toothed ribs and a long slender beak 7-10mm long that carries two rows of pappus (hairs) that are 8-14mm long which aid in dispersal by wind. Flowers spring-autumn.

Distinguishing characteristics

The rosette growth habit, irregularly lobed leaves, and bright yellow flowers are all characteristics that help with the identification of common catsear. Dandelion ( Taraxacum officinale ) resembles catsear but has an unbranched hollow flower stalk (peduncle) much more divided leaves with the tips of the lobes pointing towards the base of the leaf and the flowerheads borne singly at the ends of the long, unbranched, leafless stalks (scapes) arising from the centre of the rosette. Crepis capillaris (L) Wallr (smooth hawkesbeard) can also be distinguished from Hypochoeris radicata in that Hypochoeris radicata has unbranched and/or slightly branching stems whereas Crepis capillaris has grooved stems that are branched from the base or above and upper leaves that are stem clasping. Hypochoeris radicata has obviously hairy leaves. Furthermore, the pappus is mounted on a long slender beak on all seeds whereas Hypochoeris glabra (smooth catsear) occurs in similar habitats but the leaves are generally hairless but sometimes have short, rigid marginal hairs or with sparse, coarse hairs on the upper surface and along the lower midrib. The outer most seeds do not have a beak so the pappus is directly attached to the seed. The pappus of the inner seeds is usually on a long beak.

Sources & References

Auld BA, Meld RW (1992) ‘Weeds an illustrated botanical guide to the weeds of Australia.’ (Inkata Press: Melbourne)

Cunningham GM, Mulham PL, Leigh JH (1981) ‘Plants of Western New South Wales.’ (NSW Government Printing Office: Australia)

Harden GJ (Ed) (2002) ‘Flora of New South Wales.’ (University of New South Wales Press Ltd: Sydney, Australia)

Hafliger E, Basle B, Lucerne J (1975) ‘Ciba-Geigy weed tables: a synoptic presentation of the flora accompanying agricultural crops (JR Geigy: Basle)

Whibley DJ, Christensen TJ (1991) ‘Garden weeds identification and control.’ (Kangaroo Press: Sydney)

Wolff MA (1999) ‘Winning the war on weeds: The essential gardener’s guide to weed identification and control.’ (Inkata Press: Sydney)

Hypochoeris radicata Information Sheet

Using Cat’s Ear Plants: What Are The Benefits Of Cat’s Ear

To homeowners who desire a perfectly manicured lawn, persistent weeds like dandelion, purslane, plantain and cat’s ear can evoke anger and hatred. However, to gardeners who are fascinated by the healing properties of plants, these same little “weeds” are cherished treasures.

While most gardeners and herbalists have probably heard of the excellent medicinal and culinary uses of dandelion, plantain and purslane, cat’s ear is an oftentimes overlooked and underappreciated herb that is loaded with antioxidants. Continue reading for tips on using cat’s ear plants and learn how to reap the many cat’s ear benefits by keeping this plant around.

Is Cat’s Ear Edible?

Cat’s ear plant is a perennial native to Europe, which has naturalized in North America, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and other regions. In many of these places, cat’s ear is considered a nuisance or noxious weed, but in other places, it is considered a culinary or herbal treasure – all parts of cat’s ear are edible and the plant is high in antioxidants, potassium and lutein.

Cat’s ear plants bear a striking resemblance to dandelion, and is often called false dandelion. Like dandelion, cat’s ear plants form yellow composite flowers on hollow stems, which secrete a milky substance when snapped. The stem grows from a rosette of deeply toothed leaves. After the blooms fade, like dandelion, cat’s ear produces orb-shaped, fluffy seed heads that disperse and float in the wind on fine, silky parachutes. It is very easy to mistake cat’s ear for dandelion.

Prolific seed dispersal and the plant’s unique survival strategies have earned it its own name as a nuisance though. Cat’s ear plants will take on a prostrate, or spreading, growth habit in lawns which are frequently mowed. This flat growth allows the plant to stay just below average mowing heights. In narrow or tight regions, the plant’s adaptability also allows it to grow upright and tall. This tough survivor is listed as a noxious weed in some areas, so you should check for local restrictions before growing cat’s ear.

Common Cat’s Ear Uses

While cat’s ear has a pretty bad reputation in North America, it is a common culinary and medicinal herb in its native range. It was brought to North America by early settlers because of its uses as food and medicine.

As an herbal remedy, cat’s ear uses include treating kidney problems, urinary tract infections, gall bladder issues, constipation, rheumatism and liver problems. Its root contains a natural cortisone which is used to treat allergies, rashes and other itchy skin issues in both people and pets.

In Greece and Japan, cat’s ear is grown as a garden green. The young, tender foliage is eaten raw in salads or cooked in an array of local dishes. The flower stems and buds are steamed or sautéed, like asparagus. Cat’s ear root can also be steamed and sautéed, or roasted and ground into a coffee-like beverage.

If you would like to take advantage of the benefits of cat’s ear, be certain to only collect wild plants from sites where you know there is no chemical or otherwise harmful ground contamination.

Disclaimer: The contents of this article is for educational and gardening purposes only. Before using or ingesting ANY herb or plant for medicinal purposes or otherwise, please consult a physician, medical herbalist or other suitable professional for advice.

While most gardeners have heard the excellent medicinal and culinary uses of dandelion, plantain and purslane, cat's ear is an oftentimes overlooked and underappreciated herb that is loaded with antioxidants. Click here for tips on using cat’s ear plants in the landscape.