Monday, August 16, 2010

Elephant's Foot

This is an interesting plant that I saw for the first time just a couple of years ago. When it first came into view, I thought it looked like a tiny aster-like flower. Closer examination made me think it was a four petaled flower, with each petal having five finger-like projections. It kept me confused for a while until I showed a picture of it to someone who had just recently discovered its identify. The plant was identified as Elephant’s Foot, Elephantopus carolinianus.

A member of the Aster Family, Elephant’s Foot has what I grew up calling a composite flower. The flower is a little bit difficult to sort out. The bloom shown here represents a complete flower head with each five lobed petal belonging to a single floret. At first, I mistakenly thought the cluster of bracts represented the flower head and it took a while before I got everything sorted out in my head.

The florets open in one or two flower heads at a time, so the plant is never overloaded with blooms and the blooming season is extended for quite a while. It’s pretty easy to recognize this plant once you know what to look for. I was having trouble with the initial identification because the description of the petal described an irregular corolla or a five lobed corolla and the accompanying illustration didn’t include the petal. I thought it silly to include an illustration that didn’t show the most distinctive feature of the plant.

The lower stem is covered with long, soft hairs. Some theories propose that hairy stems are intended to discourage plant eating insects from climbing up to the leaves. Hair placement on this plant would seem to fit that theory.

The plant occurs in areas that are at least partially shaded. All of the plants I’ve found at Blue Jay Barrens have been growing at the base of hills near the creeks or waterways.


  1. Steve, this is an amazing flower, one I've never seen before. Is it endangered, or threatened in your area? ~karen

  2. Hi I was looking for a giant plant..after all being called Elephants must be a dwarf one!! : }
    The blooms... or should I say very elegant looking!!
    I find that a bit confusing because of pistols in each...ok so is each section or whatever is one petal with is own pistol???
    I bet I have you confused again!! ; }

  3. Karen - This plant is fairly common is south central Ohio. There's so much competition from other showy bloomers that most people overlook this plant. This is about the northern extent of its range, so you won't find it up north.

    grammie g - Each one of those four is an individual flower that is held together as a flower head, just like the individual flowers in a sunflower head. Where the sunflower has hundreds of flowers grouped together, this plant only has four.

  4. What a pretty plant! I don't remember seeing it before.