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Antennaria, Or Cat's Foot - An Unpretentious Groundcover

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There are many beautiful flowering plants among groundcover plants and openwork-leaved stars that are beautiful with their unusual metallic effects. But if other inhabitants of alpine mountains can boast, above all, of external effectivity, then antennaria captivates quite another - its endurance and undemanding. This very easy-to-grow groundcover, known as cat's paw, is not the most eye-catching plant, but it is unusual and attractive throughout the year. And one of the most reliable.

Antennaria, or Cat's Foot - an unpretentious groundcover
Cat's Foot Dicot, or Antennaria dioica. © rocayflor

Fanciful silver and "paws" tall inflorescences

Antennaria is a fairly common and frequent groundcover in mountainous areas, which can be found not only in Europe and Asia, but also on both American continents and in Australia. Moreover, this groundcover is very easy to recognize externally: Antennaria cannot be called a faceless crop due to the peculiar structure of both greenery and inflorescences. Most often it settles in the company of coniferous plants, including forest areas. Folk nickname - cat's paw - antennaria got for the shape of its inflorescences. But the greenery of the plant also beautifully decorates compositions. This plant is a member of the Asteraceae family.

Cat's feet, or Antennaria (Antennaria) are perennial semi-bushes or herbaceous plants that form carpets and cushions from stalking, rooting shoots. The leaves of the plant are gathered in a root rosette, spatulate or lanceolate, and like the shoots, they surprise with white-flowered pubescence, fleshiness, and a silvery coloring effect. The flower stalks of antennaria are numerous, quite powerful, in color they completely repeat the tone of the leaves, which makes it seem as if the plant itself stretches upwards, rises during flowering. The shoots are crowned with numerous flowering baskets with filiform female and tubular male flowers, roundish in shape, the baskets themselves gathered in complex inflorescences - heads and shields.

Mild and unusual, they really do look the most like soft pads on cats' paws. The period of flowering of antennarias falls in summer, lasts at least 30-40 days (in some species and varieties - more than 2 months). After flowering, beautiful small seeds with original tufts, which form thickened bristles, are set. Fruits and seeds mature even in regions with harsh winters.

Cat's Foot (Antennaria) is a large genus of herbaceous perennials, numbering over a hundred species. But as an ornamental culture mainly three varieties of Antennaria are grown:

Cat's-foot Alpine , or Antennaria Alpine (Antennaria alpina) - a small but very effective perennial, which thanks to its blue color and small leaves always looks fresh and perfectly contrasts with any neighbor in the alpinarium. The leaves are very small, covered with a silvery-blue pubescence, the mat itself will not exceed 5 cm in height, it stands out very dense, cushion-like structure. Even the flower stalks of this antennaria rise only to 15 cm, although they seem very tall against the background of the mat. Inflorescences-baskets of white color are gathered at the top of peduncles in loose brushes of 3-5 pieces. The white color of the inflorescences perfectly harmonizes with the blue greenery. The plant blooms all summer long from June to August.

Antennaria, or Cat's Foot - an unpretentious groundcover
Alpine Paw Cat, or Antennaria alpina. © Jouko Lehmuskallio

Cat's Foot dioid, or Antennaria dioica (Antennaria dioica) is a more original perennial. It does not die off in the winter, retains greenish-blue shoots and leaves even under the snow, looking bright against the background of an empty alpine hill and as if defying frost. Creeping shoots, like most antennarias, take root in the ground on contact. The plant is slightly larger than the alpine antennaria. The cushion bush is more loose, bumpy, up to 15 cm high and up to 25 cm in diameter. Even from a distance it seems sprawling, slightly sloppy, "wild", but very beautiful.

Cellular felted leaves of oval shape gathered in a rosette, from which numerous creeping shoots crawl out like snakes. Leaves curl up in heat and drought, which does not reduce the attractiveness of the antennaria. The flower stalks are thick, straight, with clearly visible linear leaves hugging them. Small baskets of pink or reddish-colored inflorescences with male and female flowers are clustered in the heads and shields of the inflorescences. This antennaria blooms early, as early as late May, capable of blooming for about 2 months. Seeds mature as early as August.

Antennaria, or Cat's Foot - an unpretentious groundcover
Cat's Foot Dicot, or Antennaria dioica 'Rubra' (Antennaria dioica 'Rubra'). © monrovia

In addition to the basic plant, ornamental forms and varieties of Antennaria dioica are very popular:

  • Minima (minima) is a tiny variety about 5 cm high with touching delicate pink inflorescences;
  • rosea (rosea)-a form with bright pink flowers and a more intense green color;
  • brura (rubra)-a reddish-blooming big antennaria with the height of bush about 15 sm;
  • tomenosa (tomentosa)-form with almost white, dense foliage;
  • the 'Aprica' variety with snow-white inflorescences;
  • the 'Roy Davidson' variety with purple-pink inflorescences and vivid green.

Cat's foot plantain leaf, or Antennaria plantain leaf (Antennaria plantaginifolia) is a rarer species whose bushes do resemble plantain greens. It is the largest aerialaria, with shoots densely covered with lanceolate leaves that can grow up to 40 cm in length, and the oval, large leaves in rosettes are so reminiscent of the cultivated version of the plantain. The inflorescences are also larger than those of the other antennarians. They open in May-June and consist of fairly large white or muddy-pink baskets. Similarly to the plantain it is considered a plant capable of growing even in places where no other species would settle, including untreated or neglected soil (but it reveals its ornamental value completely only in at least minimally tilled soil).

Antennaria, or Cat's Foot - an unpretentious groundcover
Cat's foot plantain, or Antennaria plantaginifolia. © Fritzflohrreynolds

Where less common is Cat's Foot Carpathian, or Antennaria carpatica (Antennaria carpatica), a plant with a typical gray-silver carpet of rosettes of narrow leaves and tall but bare flower stalks crowned with pinkish inflorescences.

Antennaria is used in garden decoration:

  • for decoration of alpine slides and rockeries;
  • for decoration of support walls, stony slopes, sections of terrace gardens with light and dry soil;
  • for problem areas with sandy soil;
  • to fill gaps between stones and slabs, in step paths;
  • in formal flower gardens with stone backfill;
  • in landscape flower gardens or natural style compositions that imitate wildlife;
  • in carpeted mixborders;
  • as a lawn alternative, trampling-resistant groundcover;
  • for a low border along a pathway;
  • as a contrasting soil filler between conifers, especially dwarf ones;
  • as a wintergreen plant that retains its appeal all year long;
  • as a silvery accent in stony gardens;
  • for long summer blooms and contrast with major beautifully flowering crops in a rockery;
  • as a cutter crop (for winter bouquets).

Best partners for antennaria: compact firs, pines and junipers, heather, barberries, copses, herbs, bulbs (can be planted in the carpet of antennaria), any flowering plants for alpine hill and annuals.

Antennaria, or Cat's Foot - an unpretentious groundcover
Attennaria carpatica, or Antennaria carpatica. © Maurizio Broglio

Cultivation of Antennaria

Like the majority of groundcover plants, Cat's Foot prefers sunny places and will not normally develop even in penumbra (shoots are elongated, the carpet becomes loose and unattractive). But there is one peculiarity with antennaria: plants feel perfectly well not on the southern, but on the eastern and western slopes of Alpinaries and rockeries, but on the hottest sites it is better not to plant them.

The ground for this groundcover should be water permeable, light and poor. In nutritious and even standard soils Antennaria should not be planted, it does not tolerate an excess of nitrogen and organic matter (the effect is the same as in the shade). There is no need to improve the soil before planting. Antennaria can be planted on sandy soils, on any poor and even neglected soil. It is able to survive perfectly and please with beauty even there, where the most hardy of cereal plants do not settle. The reaction of the soil is preferably slightly acidic.

The plants are planted according to the standard method, in personal pits on the size of the rhizome, not deepening strongly. The optimal planting distance is 25 cm and more. When planting in stony gardens or other decorative compositions, it is desirable to mulch immediately. Antennaria, unlike many of the inhabitants of alpine mountains, does not like mulching with bark, substrate or other conventional materials: mulch for it create from gravel or stone chips. It is possible not to mulch antennaria, but in that case in the first months before the formation of dense turf will not forget about weeding.

Antennaria, or Cat's Foot - an unpretentious groundcover
Cat's foot dioica, or Antennaria dioica 'Rotes Wunder'

Care of Antennaria

This groundcover has won the title of one of the most unpretentious decorative plants for a reason. Antennaria is so hardy and undemanding that it does not need any care. This plant can literally be "planted and forgotten". By and large, neither watering nor loosening the soil is necessary for antennaria, weeds do not germinate inside the mats. Of course, there are exceptions to this rule. If you want the antennaria to create a dense carpet faster, set the goal of rapid landscaping, you can introduce watering in drought or even systemic treatments (but do not allow overwatering). When growing for cuttings, watering for more showy inflorescences is also desirable. In the first months after planting, especially when growing from seed, weeding is necessary, but you can get rid of it by mulching the soil with stone chips.

The only thing to take care of is fairly frequent rejuvenation. Antennaria are prone to degeneration, sprawling, mats without regular division become loose and sparse, with gaps in them. Divide antennaria every 2-3 years, in early spring. Mats can be divided into 2-3 large and smaller parts. The main thing is to remove the dead parts of the cushions.

Wintering antennaria

This groundcover is completely winter-hardy, it does not suffer even in the case of a bad winter. Sheltering is not required.

Pest and disease control

Antennaria is one of the unique groundcover plants that does not suffer from diseases and pests with the right choice of growing location. The only thing that can threaten the cat's paw is planting in a damp place and quickly dying from rotting.

Antennaria, or Cat's Foot - an unpretentious groundcover
Antennaria smallleaf (Antennaria microphylla). © Matt Lavin

Methods for propagating Antennaria

Easy to get new plants by dividing bushes and mats, separating lateral leaf rosettes (provided the dividers are not too small). Divide antennaria in spring or at least in early summer. Usually by the end of the garden season they already have time to form a nice and dense cushion.

You can also use another vegetative method - digging out the offshoots (creeping shoots take root in the soil independently, constantly forming new bushes, which are enough to separate from the mother plant). The optimum time to separate the grafts is in mid-spring.