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

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Tuesday - July 21, 2009

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

QUESTION:

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.

ANSWER:

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






Arrowleaf sweet coltsfoot
Petasites frigidus var. sagittatus

Arrowleaf sweet coltsfoot
Petasites frigidus var. sagittatus

Beetleweed
Galax urceolata

Beetleweed
Galax urceolata

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