Pussypaws

The pinkish flowers of pussypaws (also called Mount Hood pussypaws) are borne in a dense cluster at the tip of red stems. The cluster looks like the furred paw of a kitten and if squeezed between the fingers has the soft feel of fur. The common name pussypaws is most appropriate.

A perennial member of the purslane family, pussypaws is native to and is found in the mountainous areas of Western United States north into British Columbia. It flourishes in dry, sandy soils and is often found along trails and roadsides at high altitudes up to timberline. If found at lower elevations, pussypaws is an indicator of sterile soils.

Pussypaws has a thickened taproot that can go many feet into the soil, important for anchoring the plant in its rocky, unstable habitat. The elongate, leathery leaves are basal and arranged flat on the ground in a rosette. The stem responds to the warmth and light of the sun. In the morning and evening the stems are prostrate and hug the ground while at mid-day the stems are upright. The shiny, black seeds are food for chipmunks and other rodents.

The scientific name for pussypaws is in flux. Recently the plant was placed in the genus Cistanthe. However, from what I read, this might not be the final decision. Formerly pussypaws was Calyptridium umbellatum and prior to that the genus was Spraguea. As with so many plants and animals, pussypaws is identified in the literature and field guides under all three genera with the species name, umbellatum. Scientific names are meant to prevent confusion but sometimes I wonder.

I know of no medicinal or culinary uses for pussypaws, whatever its scientific name.

These mature plants were growing at Medicine Lake (California) at an elevation over 7,000 feet.

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One Response to Pussypaws

  1. Pingback: Pussytoes | The Nature Niche

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