Common Catsear (Hypochoeris radicata)

Family:

Sunflower Family (Asteraceae)

Other Names:

Hypochaeris radicata, cat's-ear, coast dandelion, false dandelion, flatweed, gosmore, hairy cat's-ear, hairy wild lettuce, long-rooted cats's-ear, spotted cat's-ear.

Origin and Distribution:

The native range of common catsear includes much of Europe, Asia, and North Africa. Following its introduction, the plant became established throughout the eastern half of North America as well as in the Pacific Northwest. According to current reports, it occurs in a dozen northeastern counties of Ohio and is scattered throughout the southern half of the state. Common catsear is a weed of lawns, golf courses, pastures, and waste places. It tends to be more common on sandy or gravely soils.

Plant Description:

Common catsear is a perennial with a growth form similar to that of dandelion; its leaves form a basal rosette and it produces yellow head-like flowers at the tips of upright stems. Leaves of common catsear are typically lance-shaped with irregular rounded lobes and hairs on both the upper and lower surfaces. Emerging from the rosette are wiry hairless stems that usually have leaf-like bracts and branches. At the tips of the branches are 1-inch-wide flower heads composed of many tubular, yellow flowers. Common catsear reproduces by seeds and vegetatively by way of buds formed on the crown that can produce new plants if separated.

  • Root System:

    Common catsear has a deep, fibrous root system that includes enlarged roots resembling taproots.

  • Seedlings and Shoots:

    Cotyledons are spoon shaped and have a rough surface. Young seedlings resemble dandelions except they have thick, rough-surfaced leaves with wavy margins. Seedlings form a rosette of basal leaves.

  • Stems:

    Stems are 8 to 16 inches tall, stiff, wiry, smooth, and often branched. Located at the tip of each branch is a solitary flower head. There may be a few scattered, small, leaf-like bracts upon the stem. Stems contain a milky sap.

  • Leaves:

    Leaves formed in a basal rosette are lance-shaped with irregular, rounded lobes. The upper and lower leaf surfaces and margins are covered with coarse hairs.

  • Flowers:

    A single, dandelion-like flower head is produced at the end of each branch. The yellow flower heads are flat and 3/4 to 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Each flower head is composed of many individual petal-like flowers.

  • Fruits and Seeds:

    The one-seeded, spindle-shaped fruits are 1/5 inch long, narrow, red-brown, and have a long ridge and an elongated beak making up at least half their length. Located at the end of the beak is a persistent, feathery, white plume of hairs (pappus).

Similar Species:

Common catsear and dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) are easily confused due to similarities in their flowers and leaves. However, dandelion leaves are hairless and have pointed lobes and its flowering stems do not branch, lack bracts, and are often tinged with red. Yellow hawkweed (Hieracium pratense) produces hairy leaves in a rosette and yellow flowers similar to those of common catsear. However, hawkweed leaves lack lobes and its stems are bristly while common catsear leaves have irregularly lobed edges and its stems are smooth. All three of the above-mentioned species exude a milky sap when cut or bruised.

Biology:

Although flowers form anytime from May until autumn, it is most common to see common catsear blooming after September. The plant grows rapidly and is capable of producing mature flowering plants from seeds in about two months. Plants produce, on average, 20 flower heads during a single season with 40 or more seeds in each head. Because of its palatability, nutrient content, and productivity, common catsear is a valued grassland plant in New Zealand and Australia. Sheep, pigs, and some wildlife often prefer the plant over more traditional pasture species. Common catsear can be controlled by hand digging in early spring. On large areas, common catsear can be managed by plowing and cultivating for one to two years. Rapid spread of the weed was noticed in the 1960's, possibly because it was tolerant to some of the more common herbicides used on lawns. However, there are selective herbicides available that will control common catsear.

Toxicity:

Potentially allergenic compounds are associated with this genus.

Facts and Folklore:

  • There are reports of pigs eating the long fleshy roots and therefore, 'Hypochoeris' was derived from the Greek word for a 'young pig'.

  • The common name comes from the hairy leaf surface that was thought to resemble a cat's ear. Otherwise, the plant bears little resemblance to felines.