Parlin’s Pussytoes 

As I write this in mid-May, my Parlin’s Pussytoes are full of blossoms AND full of tiny caterpillars. This early blooming perennial is not as showy as some, but it is a welcome sight with butterflies flitting about laying their eggs on the leaves in early May. These eggs turn into tiny, spiky caterpillars that make a tent out of leaves and silk, eventually molting through several stages and finally turning into American Lady or Painted Lady butterflies.  

These plants make a great garden edge – low enough that even the lawnmower is unlikely to do them much damage. I also love they way they spread their windborne seeds and pop up in unexpected places in my garden.  

As usual, the Plant Description and In the Garden sections are courtesy of Shaun Booth from In Our Nature. 

Scientific Name: Antennaria parlinii 

Common Name: Parlin’s Pussytoes 

Family: Asteraceae (aster family) 

Alternate Common Names: Ladies’ Tobacco, Smooth Pussytoes 

Plant description: Parlin’s Pussytoes feature both basal and alternate leaves. Basal leaves are up to 9.5cm long and 4.5cm wide, toothless and rounded at the tip. The leaves have 3-5 prominent veins and fine hairs that give the leaves a gray-green appearance with the undersides of the leaves taking on a more silvery-gray look. Widely spaced alternate leaves are found along the flowering stalk and are much smaller than the basal leaves but are still hairy with smooth margins. From the basal leaf clumps emerge hairy flowering stalks, each topped by a cluster of small flowers that give the appearance of a cat’s paw. Flowers give way to tiny brown seeds topped with a cotton-like tuft of white hair that allows them to be carried by the wind. 

In the Garden: Parlin’s Pussytoes are an adaptable, low growing groundcover that thrives in tough conditions. 

Skill level: beginner 

Lifespan: perennial 

Exposure: full sun to full shade (prefers full sun) 

Soil Type: lean, gritty to rocky or sandy-clay, well-drained soils 

Moisture: dry to medium 

Height: 15-25 cm 

Spread: 20 cm 

Bloom Period: May 

Colour: white 

Fragrant (Y/N):

Showy Fruit (Y/N):

Cut Flower (Y/N):

Pests: no serious insect or disease problems 

Natural Habitat: prairies, dry meadows, sloped open woodlands and in disturbed sites like eroded banks or abandoned fields. 

Wildlife Value: the leaves are a preferred food for deer, quail and rabbits. 

Butterfly Larva Host Plant For: American Lady (Vanessa virginiensis), Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui

Moth Larva Host Plant For: Everlasting Tebenna Moth (Tebenna gnaphaliella)

USDA Hardiness Zone: 5-9 

Propagation: There is little information available on starting Parlin’s Pussytoes from seed other than that it may be difficult and is slow to germinate. The very small seeds require light to germinate therefore surface sow. New plants may be propagated by dividing clumps in the spring, or from cuttings. My experience is that this plant readily self sows in the garden, so I’m thinking it should be a great candidate for winter sowing.

Additional Info: One of the few native plants that does well in dry, shady locations, it does not do well in fertile, humusy soils, particularly if drainage is poor. This plant is similar to Field Pussytoes (Antennaria neglecta) but the leaves on that plant tend to be narrower and shorter and do not have the prominent veins underneath.

Native Range: