Colt’s-foot (Tussilago farfara)
|Also known as:||baccy plant, cough wort, foal-foot, poor-man's baccy, son-before-father|
|Size||Flower head diameter: 15-35 mm (2)|
Flowering shoot length: 5-15 cm (2)
Leaf width: 10-20 cm (2)
Not threatened (3).
Colt’s foot is one of the earliest flowers each spring. The alternative name ‘son-before-father’ refers to the fact that the bright yellow flowers held on purplish woolly shoots are often present before the leaves (4) (5). The large leaves with their thick felt-covered undersides occur in rosettes (2). They are similar in shape to animal hooves, hence the names colt’s or foal’s-foot. The scientific name Tussilago derives from the latin for ‘cough’ (Tussis), and hints at the widespread smoking of the dried leaves in folk-medicine to cure coughs (4) (5). It is still smoked in some areas today as herbal tobacco, and the names ‘baccy plant’ and ‘poor-man’s-baccy’ survive in some parts of Britain (4).
Common throughout Britain, reaching heights of up to 1065m in Scotland (2) (3). Elsewhere, this species is found throughout most of Europe reaching its northernmost extreme in Norway. It also occurs in North Africa, western and northern Asia, and has been introduced to North America (2).
Occurs in a range of habitats that are typically disturbed, including rough grassland, shingle and sand dunes, road verges, waste ground, cliff slopes, spoil heaps and river banks. In agricultural areas, colt’s-foot can be a stubborn arable weed (2) (3).
Colt’s-foot is a perennial species that arises from rhizomes (3). The flowers, which are present from February to April (6), close at night and in poor weather and are pollinated by a range of flies and bees (2) (1). The seeds are dispersed by wind, but to seedlings require constantly moist conditions to survive. Most plants spread from the rhizome by vegetative reproduction (1).
This plant has been put to a wide range of uses through the years (4). The leaves can be incorporated into salads, cooked and used to make tea. The felt from the leaves has been used as a stuffing agent and dried for use as tinder. Colt’s-foot is still available in health-food outlets as a treatment for coughs and other chest problems. The plant must be boiled before being ingested as it contains substances that can be toxic to the liver (6).
This plant is not threatened.
Conservation action is not required for this species at present.
For more information on British native plants and for details of how to get involved in plant conservation visit the website of Plantlife, the wild plant charity:
For more on the various uses of colt’s-foot, see the Plants For a Future website:
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- Perennial: plants that live for at least three seasons; after an initial period they produce flowers once a year.
- Rhizomes: rhizomes are thickened, branching, creeping storage stems. Although most rhizomes grow laterally just along or slightly below the soil's surface, some grow several inches deep. Roots grow from the underside of the rhizome, and during the growing season new growth sprouts from buds along the top. A familiar rhizome is the ginger used in cooking.
- Vegetative reproduction: type of asexual reproduction (reproduction without recombination of genetic material) that results in the propagation of plants using only the vegetative tissues such as leaves or stems. The resulting plant is genetically identical to the original plant. A well-known example of this is the reproduction of strawberry plants from ‘runners’.
National Biodiversity Network Species Dictionary (January, 2004)
- Clapham, A.R., Tutin, T.G. and & Moore, D.M. (1987) Flora of the British Isles 3rd Edition. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
- Preston, C.D., Pearman, D.A. and Dines, T.D. (2002) New Atlas of the British and Irish Flora. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
- Mabey, R. (1996) Flora Britannica. Sinclair-Stevenson, London.
- Grigson, G. (1996) The Englishman’s Flora. Helicon Publishing Ltd, Oxford.
Plants for a Future (January, 2004)