poetry and prose about place

Coltsfoot (Tussilago Farfara L.)

with 13 comments

Although it has been snowing sporadically this month, our recent days of very, very warm weather tell me spring has arrived.  As a result, I am watching the roadsides for the first flowers of spring.  Even before the snow is out of the woods, it begins to melt along the roadsides as they warm in the lengthening hours of sun.  And the cycle of bloom begins again.

Coltsfoot (Tussilago Farfara L.) is one of the first plants seen in early spring.  It forms large patches in waste areas, beside brooks and roads, and on damp hillsides.  People often mistake Tussilago for Dandelion, but it is quite different.  Its yellow flowers are borne on scaly, leafless stems.  The large, woolly leaves don’t appear until later in the season.  In spite of its early appearance in spring, Tussilago actually has late flowers.  The flower buds are formed in autumn at the base of the plant, and pass winter underground, flowering in the first spring sunlight.

Other names for the plant are Son-before-the-Father, which refers to the appearance of flowers before the leaves, and pas-d’âne (literally donkey-steps).  The scientific names are from the Latin tussis, meaning a cough, referring to the use of the plant as a remedy for such ailments, and the Latin word for coltsfoot, farfarus.  The plant was named by Linnaeus, the Swedish botanist who established the present day system of naming plants.

Although the plant was used by pioneers for its medicinal effects, it is now known that Tussilago contains harmful alkaloids.  Tea made from Coltsfoot has caused health problems in infants and pregnant women, so its use as a cough remedy is not recommended.  In some States, Coltsfoot is considered a noxious weed.




Tussilago Farfara L.



splashed beside the road

like prints

of a frisky colt’s feet


at first glance-

an early dandelion!


too early

stem scaly

no leaves         below the bloom

no perfume.




(flowers before the leaves).

Introduced from

far, far away.

Old wives say

boiled greens

will ease

a cough.


Long ago


sprang from where

a burro trod

among the palms




Published as: ‘Coltsfoot’, Winter 1993, The Antigonish Review 92:76-77.


© Jane Tims  1993


13 Responses

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  1. Interesting – the next time I see a ‘dandelion’ I am going to examine it more closely to see if I am mistaken! Beautiful drawing…


    Barbara Rodgers

    April 25, 2012 at 2:10 pm

    • Hi. The Tussilago are all in bloom here now, no leaves at all, just yellow blooms. Jane


      jane tims

      April 26, 2012 at 6:40 am

  2. Coltsfoot is finally in bloom here in New Brunswick. I saw two large patches of yellow along the road in Marysville yesterday. Jane


    jane tims

    April 12, 2012 at 7:22 am

  3. I discovered a big patch of coltsfoot blooming in a ditch last week. I thought they were dandelions at first, but the asparagus-looking stem gave it away as coltsfoot.

    Love the drawing. I can almost see the yellow in the flowers.



    March 26, 2012 at 5:41 pm

    • Hi Robin. It is fun trying to represent various colors with black and white pencil. The stem does look like asparagus. Jane


      jane tims

      March 26, 2012 at 8:02 pm

  4. Wonderful verse and drawing- I saw a patch of these last week and had that very same ‘dandelion?’ reaction!


    Watching Seasons

    March 25, 2012 at 8:27 pm

    • Hi. I watched the roadside yesturday and there is no Coltsfoot here yet. It is one thing about doing these posts and reading work by you and others… I realise how differently spring falls in the different locations. I always knew this, but by watching the various posts, I can ‘see’ it happening. Jane


      jane tims

      March 26, 2012 at 7:11 am

  5. Hi Jane,
    What a great post. I appreciate learning about plants that grow along the sides of the road. The history is very interesting and now I know
    “Son-before-the-Father means flowers before the leaves”



    March 25, 2012 at 12:11 am

  6. Aha, I know exactly the flower you are paying tribute to, and I never knew its name. Edifying as well as enjoyable post. Your pencil drawings continue to inspire!


    Jane Fritz

    March 24, 2012 at 3:06 pm

    • Hi Jane. I haven’t seen it yet along the road, but it will be blooming soon. I love the leaves too; they make a green carpet along the ditches in late spring and summer. Jane


      jane tims

      March 24, 2012 at 8:02 pm

  7. Very, very nice indeed. Love the illustration, too.



    March 23, 2012 at 7:07 am

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