Delicate Elephant’s Foot Flowers

An elephant’s foot is big. They are easily a foot across. Long ago they were made into umbrella stands.

The Ozark Elephant’s Foot does have big leaves but not that big. The entire plant might be that big across. It’s flowers are small lacy affairs. Surprisingly they are considered a type of aster.

elephant's foot leaf

An elephant’s foot leaf can be six inches long and half that wide but is certainly no match for a real elephant’s foot.

In late spring the leaves are unmistakable. They are dark green with ruffled edges. They are pointed at both ends and form a rosette close to the ground. This year the rosettes seemed to cover the ground along the creek, in the ravines and other moist shady spots.

Over the summer each rosette got taller. The leaves stuck out from a thick central stalk. The stalk left the big leaves behind and grew taller then topped itself with a set of two or three small leaves called bracts holding the flower buds. It branched until it was a spidery high rise a foot or a bit more tall with numerous pairs of bracts.

elephant's foot flower

Look closely at the elephant’s foot flower. Those petals are only four in number but finely divided. A single tube flower rests on each ray flower.

Now the buds are open into deceptive flowers. What looks like many petals is only four rays, each cut into fingers. A single tube flower comes out of the base of each ray.

Even though the flowers are small, only a half inch across, the number of them makes them noticeable as each pair of bracts can have several flowers open at the same time. I wade through them afternoons identifying trees along the creek.

elephant's foot flowers on bracts

Numerous sets of ray flowers and tube flowers can top a set of bracts.

Later on I will wade through them again labeling some of the trees. I am not very good at identifying trees by their bark and want to know them this winter after their leaves are gone.

That time I will probably not have delicate lavender to pink flowers to admire. Instead I will come back pulling half inch long flat needles out of my jeans.

elephant's foot seeds

The elephant’s foot tube flowers become half inch long flat seeds with pointed tips. those tips stick in fur or cloth so the seeds can be spread elsewhere.

Why is this wildflower called Elephant’s Foot? Most of its relatives live in the tropics. These plants have much larger leaves that earn their name.