Hoary Puccoon
Lithospermum canescens
Boraginaceae (Borage family)

Description: This native perennial plant is about ½-1½' tall, branching occasionally. It has a tendency to sprawl across the ground. The stems are covered with long white hairs. The leaves have sparse white hairs on their uppersides, ciliate hairs along their margins, and a white pubescence on their undersides. These characteristics give the plant a slightly hoary aspect, hence its name. The alternate leaves are about 2" long and ¾" wide, with a prominent central vein, and absence of serration along the margins. They are oblong or oblanceolate, with rounded tips, and are sessile at the base. The flowers occur in showy clusters at the ends of major stems. They are bright yellow or yellowish orange, narrowly tubular, with 5 rounded lobes that flare abruptly outward. Each flower is about ¾" across and has no noticeable floral scent. The blooming period occurs during late spring and lasts about a month. The root system consists of a central taproot.

Cultivation: The preference is full-sun in mesic to dry conditions. The soil can contain significant amounts of loam, gravel, or sand. It has a reputation of being difficult to germinate from seed. Nonetheless, this puccoon is probably the easiest to grow in the average wildflower garden if transplants can be obtained.

Range & Habitat: Hoary Puccoon occurs throughout Illinois, except in some SE areas of the state. This plant is found occasionally in high quality habitats, such as virgin prairie remnants, otherwise it is rare or absent. Habitats include mesic to dry black soil prairies, sand prairies, hill prairies, Bur Oak savannas, sandy Black Oak savannas, and limestone glades. This is the most common Lithospermum sp. in Illinois.

Faunal Associations: The flowers attract long-tongued bees, butterflies, and skippers primarily. Among the bees, are such visitors as bumblebees, Miner bees, Nomadine Cuckoo bees, and Mason bees. Some spring-season bee flies visit the flowers, including Bombylius major (Giant Bee Fly). Among the skippers, Erynnis spp. (Duskywings) and Pholisora catyllus (Common Sootywing) are attracted to the yellow flowers of this plant. There is little information available regarding Hoary Puccoon's relation to birds and mammals. Because the leaves are not known to be toxic, it seems likely that they are eaten by such animals as groundhogs and rabbits.

Comments: The flowers are really bright and conspicuous, but remain on the plant for some time even after they turn brown. The word 'puccoon' means that this plant was once the source of a dye – a reddish color that was used by Amerindians for pottery, basketry, and personal ornament in various ceremonies.