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Tussilago farfara

  • Name also: Cough-wort
  • Family: Daisy Family – Compositae, subfamily Asteroideae
    (formerly Aster Family – Asteraceae)
  • Growing form: Perennial herb. Flowering stem develops in spring before leaves. Rootstock long, branching, scaly.
  • Height: Flowering stem 5–30 cm (2–12 in.), extending in fruit. Stem cottony, branchless, with long, scaly stolons.
  • Flower: Single flower-like approx. 1.5 cm (0.6 in.) capitula surrounded by involucral bracts. Capitula flowers bright yellow, ray-florets tongue-like pistillate flowers in many rows, pistil of 2 fused carpels; disc florets small, tubular staminate flowers, stamens 5. Involucral bracts in 2 rows, narrow, with membranous margins. Capitula solitary, terminating flowering stems.
  • Leaves: Flowering stem leaves alternate, scale-like, reddish brown. Proper leaves a basal rosette, long-stalked. Blade broadly kidney-shaped, 10–20 cm (4–8 in.) broad, with irregularly toothed margins, underside white-felted, top becoming glabrous.
  • Fruit: Long, 5-ridged, yellowish brown, approx. 3–5 mm (0.12–0.2 in.) long achene, tip with unbranched hairs.
  • Habitat: Broad-leaved forests, swamps, springs, stream banks, shores, ditches, arable land, disused fields, meadows, roadsides, yards, gardens, heaps of earth, wasteland.
  • Flowering time: April–June.

Coltsfoot is a native species in Finland in sparsely-populated coastal land-accretion sites, swamps, seepage surfaces and springs, and birch and willow woodland and meadows in the north of the country. Nowadays a different population which grows on culturally influenced land has become gradually more common and abundant with the help of people and is much more common than the native population. Perhaps it has even been spread on purpose: the plant’s scientific name comes from the words tussis ’cough’ and agere, ’to drive out’ because a tea of the plant has been seen as an efficient treatment for colds and lung infections.

The first coltsfoot of spring is always reported in the media as it indicated the beginning of spring after the long winter. The plant begins to flower in the first snow-free spots and is often the first plant to appear on the bare ground. It can help locate the south-facing slope on an embankment or even district heating pipes: lost heat that keeps areas free of snow and those beside walls bloom slightly earlier than those nearby. Early flowering is part of coltsfoot’s special annual rhythm. Assimilating shoots develop in high summer but are unable to flower before winter comes. The flower embryos develop in the autumn and overwinter on the ground, so the plant is ready to bloom as soon as winter begins to turn to spring. The leaves only develop once the inflorescence has wilted.

Coltsfoot can be hard to eradicate as a weed on cultivated ground and in yards because of its deep-reaching, layered root. Its large leaves shade the soil and stop other plants growing. Even street-cleaners curse it as it is quick to settle in right next to walls and cracks in the pavement, even gradually digging out a place for itself in asphalt. For most Finns, however, the sight of its small, sunny sun-like capitula opening up on a bright day brings a smile to their face. Insects do not have many nectar plants to choose from at the beginning of spring and coltsfoot’s role as a provider of ready meals is important to the first butterflies, bumble-bees and honey-bees. Coltsfoot is the provincial flower of Eastern Uusimaa.

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