coltsfoot Tussilago farfara

Angela Lambert
4th April 2013

 

Here’s a welcome sight after such a long cold winter.  A cheery little patch of coltsfoot blooming close to the new cut in Feltwell, Norfolk.

 

What does coltsfoot mean?

The latin name for this plant is Tussilago farfara – not something to be trying to pronounce after a night in the Chequers but, after a spot of Googling, it’s a name that tells us a lot about the plant.

The common name, coltsfoot, refers to the shape of the leaf – which arrives after the flowers have gone over and the second part of the latin name “farfara” comes from the ancient name for the White Poplar.  Both plants have pale coloured undersides to their leaves.

Tussilago comes from the Latin Tussis ago meaning to drive out a cough.  This plant has traditionally been used to make remedies for coughs and respiratory disorders and apparently some cough sweets still included an extract of coltsfoot among their ingredients.

tussilago farfara, Coltsfoot

A great plant for bees

Latin and medicine aside, this plant blooms in March and April and is an excellent source of pollen and nectar for early bees.  It is often visited by solitary bees such as Anthophora retusa, a type of mining bee.  It's well and truly on the RHS Perfect for Pollinators list of wild flowers.....just like most of the plant species in Meadowmat.

On a dull day, or in the evening, this plant is difficult to spot.  The flowers close up at night and on gloomy days and the leaves don't appear until late spring - once the flowers have faded and gone.

Much as I love this flower as one of the brightest and cheeriest harbingers of spring, I really wouldn’t want it in my garden.  It can be quite invasive and so best left in the wild where it can bring a spot of colour to riverbanks, road verges and brownfield sites.  I'll stick with my little wild flower meadow.