Dandelions, Cat's-ears, Hawkbits & Allies

Autumn Hawkbit Common Dandelion Orange Fox-and-cubs Common Cat's-ear

What are they?

Dandelions are a familiar sight and brighten up many a grassy area with their vidid yellow flowers. But what we may at first call a dandelion, may not necessarily be so, for this is a complex group of closely-related species in the Asteraceae - a large family that includes not only dandelions but daisies, thistles and many other plants. Although some people may think of all these yellow flowers as dandelions, there are, in fact, quite a number of similar species and this group also includes the cat's-ears, hawkbits and mouse-ear hawkweeds.

Where are they found?

These are generally plants of open, usually grassy places, such as roadsides, commons, meadows, grassy heaths and lawns, but they may also be found commonly in urban environments, where they may grow from cracks in the pavement or on old walls and waste ground.

Identification

Identifying some of these plants may be daunting at first, but once the general principles are understood and the commoner species learned, the process becomes a little easier. Since the yellow flowerheads are all rather similar, it is necessary to consider other parts of the plant for identification. It is important to study carefully the greenish or brownish, outer part of the flowerheads, which consists of a series of overlapping, leaf-like structures known as phyllaries. Note also whether the flower stem is branched or simple, and note whether the leaves are hairy or not. If the stems are branched, do they carry small, scale-like bracts on them? If the leaves are hairy, are the hairs simple, glandular, or forked? You will need a hand lens for checking the hair detail.



Common Dandelion      Taraxacum officinale agg.

A complex of both native and introduced populations, common and often abundant in all types of grassy places and also in urban environments, fens and shady places. Flowers mostly in April and May, but a few plants may occasionally be found flowering during any month of the year. Although similar to other species on this page, dandelions may be readily identified by their fragile flower stems which in cross-section can be seen to consist largely of a hollow centre, with just a narrow stem wall around the outside. Stems readily seep white sap if broken. Leaves are very variable but generally are deeply and sharply toothed or lobed and are largely hairless. Phyllaries are usually very strongly reflexed; flowerheads large. Dandelions in the broad sense consist of a large number of very closely-related species (nearly 100 have been recorded in East anglia!!) and separation of these is very difficult and really only the realm of a handful of experts. Anyone wishing to identify dandelions to the microspecies level would find BSBI Handbook No 9 by Dudman & Richards an essential source of information.

Common Dandelion Common Dandelion Common Dandelion Common Dandelion
Habit
Phyllaries
Leaf
Leaf


Common Cat's-ear      Hypochaeris radicata

A common and often abundant plant, found in all types of grassy places and often growing alongside dandelions. Flowers mostly in May to July - peaking a little later than dandelions, but a few plants may occasionally be found flowering during most months of the year. May grow to 50cm in height in long grass, but oftem much shorter. Leaves are softly downy, like a cat's ear (giving the plant its name) and the flowering stems are tough, wiry (not hollow), branched and have small, pointed bracts on them, often with one just below the flowerhead. The flowerhead is not tapered at the base, but narrows abruptly into the stem. Phyllaries hairless.

Common Cat's-ear Common Cat's-ear Common Cat's-ear Common Cat's-ear
Habit
Phyllaries
Leaf tip
Stem bract


Smooth Cat's-ear      Hypochaeris glabra

Widespread on lightly disturbed, sandy soils, but generally rare, except in parts of Breckland and the Suffolk Sandlings. Flowers mostly June to October. Occasionally growing to 30cm in height, but more often 10cm or less. Leaves are hairless, in small, basal rosettes and the wiry flowering stems have small, pointed bracts on them, often with one just below the flowerhead. The flowerhead is not tapered at the base, but narrows abruptly into the stem. Phyllaries hairless. Flowerheads are the smallest in this group, often no more than 1-1.5cm across.

Smooth Cat's-ear Smooth Cat's-ear Smooth Cat's-ear Smooth Cat's-ear
Flowerhead
Phyllaries
Phyllaries
Leaf


Spotted Cat's-ear      Hypochaeris maculata

Once more widespread, but now extremely rare and only known from a single site in chalky grassland in West Suffolk. Flowers June to August. Ther hairy leaves are variably marked with purplish or blackish marks. More variable than other cat's-ears, with stems that may have no scale-like bracts, or just one or two while the stems may carry a single, relatively large flowerhead, or a cluster of two to three. Phyllaries roughly hairy. A variable plant, but the dark-spotted leaves make it easy to identify. Don't confuse with the spotted-leaved hawkweeds, which have shorter, broader, toothed leaves and branched flower stems.

Spotted Cat's-ear Spotted Cat's-ear Spotted Cat's-ear Spotted Cat's-ear
Flowerhead
Phyllaries
Leaf
Leaf


Rough Hawkbit      Leontodon hispidus

Widespread on chalky or neutral soils, less common on acid soils. Found in a wide range of undisturbed grasslands, such as heaths, sunny railway banks, old meadows and well-managed churchyards. Flowers June to September. Leaves roughly hairy, the hairs distinctly forked at the tip (use hand lens); margins variably lobed or almost entire. Flowering stems hairy throughout their length, without bracts on them. The flowerhead is not tapered at the base, but narrows abruptly into the stem. Phyllaries noticeably hairy.

Rough Hawkbit Rough Hawkbit Rough Hawkbit Rough Hawkbit
Flowerhead
Phyllaries
Leaf
Seedheads


Lesser Hawkbit      Leontodon saxatilis

Widespread in a wide range of grassy places and most common on sandy, acid soils. More likely than Rough Hawkbit to be found in newer grasslands or lightly disturbed places such as rough roadsides, field margins and even the edges of shingle beaches. Flowers June to September. Leaves variably hairy, the hairs distinctly forked at the tip (use hand lens); margins variably lobed or almost entire. Flowering stems only hairy at the base, the upper stem hairless or nearly so; stems without bracts on them. The flowerhead is not tapered at the base, but narrows abruptly into the stem. Phyllaries hairless.

Lesser Hawkbit Lesser Hawkbit Lesser Hawkbit Lesser Hawkbit
Flowerhead
Phyllaries
Leaf
Hairs on lower part of flower stem


Autumn Hawkbit      Scorzoneroides autumnalis

A common species, found in all kinds of grassy places, including lawns and urban environments. Flowers June to October. A rather variable species, but leaves usually smooth and deeply lobed; if hairy, then the hairs are simple and not forked at the tip (use hand lens). Flowering stems are hairless, lightly branched and with a few, scale-like bracts on them. The flowerhead is tapered at the base, narrowing gradually into the stem. Phyllaries with whitish hairs. The hairs attached to the seeds (known as the pappus) are distinctly feathered with side branches (use hand lens).

Autumn Hawkbit Autumn Hawkbit Autumn Hawkbit Autumn Hawkbit
Flowerhead
Phyllaries
Leaf
Seedhead hairs


Smooth Hawk's-beard      Crepis capillaris

Very common throughout the region in all kinds of grassy places, as well as urban and arable environments. Flowers mostly June to September but odd flowers may be found in other months, too. Leaves smooth, the margins variably lobed or almost entire. Flowering stems smooth, without bracts on them. The flowerhead is rounded at the base and abruptly narrowed into the stem, often forming a goblet shape. Flowerheads small, typically only 1-1.3cm across. Phyllaries with white hairs and usually a few dark bristles. This species is extremely variable and typically can grow to 75cm in height, with branching, lightly leafy stems. However, in short turf or mown areas, it may often throw up short stems with single flowerheads, so is included here as it may be confused with the other species on this page.

Smooth Hawk's-beard Smooth Hawk's-beard Smooth Hawk's-beard Smooth Hawk's-beard
Habit
Phyllaries
Leaf
Seedhead


Common Mouse-ear-hawkweed      Pilosella officinarum

Widespread in areas of short grass on usually dry, often sandy, soils. Flowers May to August. Leaves with very long, silky white hairs. Flowering stems and phyllaries, very obviously hairy throughout their length. Flowerheads carried singly at the top of long stems and held well above the basal leaves. Petals a paler lemon yellow than other species on this page. Differs from all other yellow species on this page by having creeping stems that spread out and form distinct mats of vegetation, the leaves all held close to the ground.

Common Mouse-ear-hawkweed Common Mouse-ear-hawkweed Common Mouse-ear-hawkweed Common Mouse-ear-hawkweed
Habit
Flowerhead
Phyllaries
Leaf


Orange Fox-and-cubs      Pilosella aurantiaca

Introduced from Europe as a garden plant and regularly spreading onto grassy roadside banks, churchyards and even wall tops and similar places. Flowers May to July. Leaves white hairy, with generally shorter but denser hairs than those of Common Mouse-ear-hwakweed. Flowering stems and phyllaries, very obviously hairy throughout their length. Flowerheads carried in small clusters at the top of long stems and held well above the basal leaves. Petals deep orange. Creeping stems spread out and form persistent mats of vegetation, the leaves all held close to the ground.

Orange Fox-and-cubs Orange Fox-and-cubs Orange Fox-and-cubs Orange Fox-and-cubs
Habit
Flowerhead
Phyllaries
Leaves