Blooming in August: Carolina False Dandelion

Common Name: Carolina False Dandelion, Desert Chicory
Botanical Name: Pyrrhopappus carolinianus
Plant Type: Biennial herb
Typical Bloom Period: May – October
Nectar Usefulness: medium
Pollen Usefulness: high

Pyrrhopappus carolinianus with a visiting sweat bee, first thing in the morning.

While exploring an abandoned farmstead as a kid I found a cast-iron wall decoration. It had a picture of a barn and windmill with a poem, all in capital letters: “Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy and wealthy and wise.” Blooming in August, as throughout the summer in Mecklenburg County, is Pyrrhopappus carolinianus, commonly called “Carolina false dandelion” or “desert chicory”. Carolina false dandelion is matinal: it is a “morning person”.

Carolina false dandelion looks a bit like a common dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) and also a bit like a hairy cat’s ear (Hypochaeris radicata). It can be distinguished by its stem: solid and leaved. A common dandelion has a hollow stem, while cats-ear and false dandelion have solid stems. A specimen of Pyrrhopappus carolinianus has some leaves on the budding stem; cat’s ear and common dandelion have none. Jan Haldeman has written a fine comparison of the three flowers for the Winter 2012 Journal of the South Carolina Native Plant Society, and the Society website makes all of the back issues of the Journal available: a fantastic resource.

Pyrrhopappus carolinianus flowers face the rising sun, and they bloom first thing in the morning. A composite aster (Astericae Compositae), they offer plenty of pollen of good quality. It is first-come-first-serve, though, and our honey bees have some competition from a matinal native bee. Hemihalictus lustrans is a type of sweat bee — genus Lasioglossum — which has a mutualistic association with Carolina false dandelion: the bee forages almost exclusively on Pyrrhopappus carolinianus, and the flower reinforces the oligolecty by opening early — sometimes as early as 5:30. Female Hemihalictus tear open the anthers and remove the pollen before it is available to our bees and provide cross-pollination for the flower. Most foraging is over by mid-morning, and the flower will be closed by noon.

Pyrrhopappus carolinianus is biennial, and can be found along roadsides and meadows and disturbed areas. It has a taproot which was eaten by Kiowa people. It spreads seed by catching the wind in pappus parasols, like a common dandelion. Our honey bees can be encouraged in matinal patterns by facing their hives toward the rising sun to allow the early light through the entrance – so to become more “healthy and wealthy and wise” and forage on Carolina false dandelion.

The following resources were most helpful:

Daly, H. (1961). Biological Observations on Hemihalictus lustrans, with a Description of the Larva (Hymenoptera: Halictidae). Journal of the Kansas Entomological Society, 34(3), 134-141. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/25083219

Estes, James R. and Thorp, Robbin W. (1975) Pollination Ecology Of Pyrrhopappus Carolinianus (Compositae). American Journal of Botany, 62(2), 148-15. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1002/j.1537-2197.1975.tb14046.x

Haldeman, Jan. (2012) Dandelions, True or False? Journal of the South Carolina Native Plant Society, Winter 2012, 10-11. Retrieved from http://scnps.org/scnps-news/newsletters

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