‘Fake’ dandelions; cat’s ear and hawksbeard – part 2 of 7

Yesterday’s blog posting introduced Tasmania’s common dandelion and three other genuine dandelions which can be found across the state. Today we consider similar weeds that are not dandelions.

The Mountain Herbs website lists a number of look-alikes. How can we accurately pick the difference from the common genuine dandelion? In this blog post I am introducing two of a number of weeds that appear similar to the dandelion.

The cat’s ear and hawksbeard are described below and then tomorrow’s blog post will look at the sowsthistle/milkthistle and the prickly lettuce.

  1. Cat’s ear (Hypochoeris radicata) looks superficially very much like the dandelion. The website Identify that plant is particularly useful with detailed photos and descriptions to help distinguish the cat’s ear from the dandelion.Although frequently a single flower head grows on a single stem (like the dandelion), it is just as likely the cat’s ear flower heads will appear on a branched stem. In contrast, the dandelion’s single flower head will only appear by itself on an unbranched stem. The cat’s ear leaves are quite hairy while the dandelion leaves are smooth. When you look closely at the shape of the leaves — by placing them side by side — you can see the dandelion is definitely sharply toothed, with its teeth pointing back toward the centre of the plant.’

Descriptive photos can be seen here.

Below, for your comparison, the first photo shows the flowers of the cat’s ear and the second a dandelion.

Hypochoeris radica-catsears

Taraxacum with leaves

Apart from the many flowers on one stem of the cat’s ear, note the points on the leaves are not as sharp and do not point to the centre as on the dandelion leaves.

Wikipedia offers cat’s ear ‘is also known as “false dandelion”, as it is commonly mistaken for true dandelions. Both plants carry similar flowers which form windborne seeds. However, cat’s ear flowering stems are forked and solid, whereas dandelions possess unforked stems that are hollow. Both plants have a rosette of leaves and a central taproot. The leaves of dandelions are jagged in appearance, whereas those of cat’s ear are more lobe-shaped and hairy. Both plants have similar uses.

The GardeningKnowHow website explains the culinary uses of this weed. ‘The young, tender foliage is eaten raw in salads. The flower stems and buds are steamed or sautéed, like asparagus. Cat’s ear root can also be steamed and sautéed, or roasted and ground into a coffee-like beverage.’

  1. What about the Hawksbeard: Crepis setosa and Crepis capillaris? What do these look like and how do they compare to the genuine common dandelion? Both plants are included in the 2019 ‘A census of vascular plants of Tasmania. Google images offer many photos.

Crepis_setosa-greg jordan

Crepis7_x

These last two photos of C. setosa are by Greg Jordan. The next two photos of C.Capillaris are by George Lienau from here.

crepis-capillaris-le-blegler

crepis-capillaris-ha-glienau-a

Did you see, on both these varieties of Hawksbeard, there is more than one flower on the stems and leaves grow out from the stems, and the leaves are not splayed as for the common dandelion Taraxacum officinale (common dandelion) nor toothed as the leaves should be for the genuine article. If you were in doubt about the difference watch this excellent Australian video showing the difference.

The key to Tasmanian plants provides: ‘Crepis setosa (Bristly Hawksbeard) is a herbaceous weed, up to about 50cm tall. It has most leaves in a rosette, but has smaller leaves on the erect stem. The stems and leaves with bristly hairs. The flower heads are numerous, about 1cm wide and with yellow flowers. Its relative, C. capillaris (Smooth Hawksbeard) is similar but has smooth stems and fruit”.

Even though not a dandelion, can this yellow flowering plant be eaten? Yes. Young leaves can be eaten raw, or cooked as a herb in a stew or soup. Very mild when young; bitterness grows with age (oh how I could quip!).

Before tomorrow’s posting with new weeds that might be mistaken for dandelions, have a look in your own garden or neighbourhood. What can you find? Is the cat’s ear or hawksbeard flourishing in your locale?

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