En EspaŅol

Q. Who is Mr. Smarty Plants?

A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

Help us grow by giving to the Plant Database Fund or by becoming a member

Did you know you can access the Native Plant Information Network with your web-enabled smartphone?


Ask Mr. Smarty Plants

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Search Smarty Plants
See a list of all Smarty Plants questions
Can't find the answer in our existing FAQs, submit a question to Mr. Smarty Plants.
Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.
rate this answer
3 ratings

Tuesday - July 21, 2009

From: Rindge, NH
Region: Northeast
Topic: Invasive Plants, Herbs/Forbs
Title: Coltsfoot invasive in Rindge NH
Answered by: Barbara Medford


I live in Rindge NH. My question is how do I stop colts foot from taking over my land? It is getting out of hand.


Common names are always a problem for Mr. Smarty Plants. The same plant can have different common names in different parts of the country, and the same common name can refer to different plants. We found four plants native to North America with one common name (among several) of "coltsfoot." Of these, the first two are listed as native to New Hampshire in our Native Plant Database and Galax urceolata (beetleweed) is native to New York and Massachusetts, close enough to have migrated, escaping cultivation or carried by birds into New Hampshire.

Petasites frigidus (arctic sweet coltsfoot)

Petasites frigidus var. palmatus (arctic sweet coltsfoot)

Petasites frigidus var. sagittatus (arrowleaf sweet coltsfoot)

Galax urceolata (beetleweed)

We have pictures in our Image Gallery of all four plants, which we will include. You can follow each plant link to the webpage on that individual plant and see if you can identify what you have in your garden. 

The first thing we learned is that all of these plants are perennials, which means that just pulling out the plants before they can go to seed won't totally solve the problem, as they can come up from roots left in the ground. We are inclined to think your invasive plant is one of the Petasites genus, and the Galax is considered a more desirable plant, with the leaves being used by florists in bouquets and often incorporated into wreathes. 

That doesn't mean that we have found a solution for you. The members of the Petasites like cool, moist woodland soil, so we would assume that is what your land is? However, in that kind of soil, and with the tall stalk of the plant, it would appear you could pull it out, roots and all. And you should do it before the blooms go to seed. Just because it's perennial doesn't mean it won't come up from seed. We know you would love for us to recommend a spray that would just kill the coltsfoot and leave the rest of the woodland plants alone. Not going to happen. Whatever spray you buy will be constituted to kill broad-leaved plants or dicots, narrow leaved plants, grasses which are dicots, or everything. Obviously, the coltsfoot is a dicot, but so are your shrubs and trees and ornamentals. Spraying widely enough to cover a wide field of plants would mean sprays of herbicide everywhere, including in the air you breathe. We know you don't want to hear this, but manual labor is probably the only choice, and stay after it. Dispose of the stuff you pull up carefully, not in a compost pit, because the seeds will just root there and go right on. And if the plants bloomed in the Spring, as our information indicates, you are likely in the midst of the seeding season. Better get at it quick.

On the bright side, if it turns out that what you have is the Galax urceolata (beetleweed), it's really rather attractive, and is widely used as a ground cover.

Pictures of Petasites frigidus var. palmatus (arctic sweet coltsfoot) from Google.


From the Image Gallery

Arctic sweet coltsfoot
Petasites frigidus

Arctic sweet coltsfoot
Petasites frigidus

Arrowleaf sweet coltsfoot
Petasites frigidus var. sagittatus

Arrowleaf sweet coltsfoot
Petasites frigidus var. sagittatus

Galax urceolata

Galax urceolata

More Herbs/Forbs Questions

Competition between peony and bulbs
November 06, 2015 - I am planting 3 herbaceous peony bare roots 3 feet apart from each other. I am told it will take 3 years before I get blooms. In the meantime, can i safely plant springtime flowering bulbs in th...
view the full question and answer

Lily plants being chewed from Austin
June 20, 2013 - Something is chewing my lily plants to the ground. Any ideas what and do I stop them?
view the full question and answer

Shade loving plants with color for Irving, Texas
July 01, 2010 - Looking for shade loving perennials or annuals with color - native and low water. Live in Irving, Texas.
view the full question and answer

Need suggestions for material to build a raised bed garden
February 13, 2015 - I am starting a raised bed garden but cannot find untreated railroad ties or landscape timbers. Does anyone have a source in the Austin or Dripping Springs area? I have tried McCoys, Home Depot, Natur...
view the full question and answer

Worms on blackeyed susans and daisies in Tuckerton NJ
July 30, 2009 - I have black eyed susans and white daisies planted together. Not sure if this makes a difference. Today I noticed that there are tiny worms on both the plants they are almost the size of silk worms. ...
view the full question and answer

Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.
© 2015 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center