Coltsfoot is one of our earlier spring flowers. The cheery and shaggy yellow flower heads top a short stalk that pops straight out of the ground; there are no leaves until later on. The plant’s favorite habitat seems to be a damp hillside at the edge of the woods, often beside a street or highway. Coltsfoot was, as its generic name suggests, a popular cough remedy; but it has been known to cause serious liver damage, so it’s not as popular as it used to be.
Gray describes the genus and the species:
TUSSILÀGO [Tourn.] L. COLTSFOOT. Head many-flowered; ray-flowers in several rows, narrowly ligulate, pistillate, fertile; disk-flowers with undivided style, sterile. Involucre nearly simple. Receptacle flat. Achenes slender-cylindric or prismatic; pappus copious, soft, and capillary. — Low perennial, with horizontal creeping rootstocks, sending up scaly scapes in early spring, bearing a single head, and producing rounded heart-shaped angled or toothed leaves later in the season, woolly when young. Flowers yellow. (Name from tussis, a cough, for which the plant is a reputed remedy.)
T. farfara L. — Wet places and along brooks, e. Que. to Pa., O., and Minn. (Nat. from Eu.)