Coltsfoot, a perennial flowering plant of the Asteraceae family, originated in Europe and Asia. European settlers brought the plant with them to North America where it thrived. Coltsfoot flourishes in much of the Eastern United States and parts of Canada. The plant's name refers to the leaf's resemblance to a young horse's hoofprint.
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Coltsfoot reaches about 12 to 20 inches high and has multiple stems, each of which bears one yellow flower. The leaves arrive after the flowers on separate stalks and typically grow 2 to 7 inches long and 3 to 7 inches wide. The flower heads, about 1 to 1-1/4 inch in diameter, consist of numerous ray flowers. The red-brown or yellow seeds have a cylindrical shape. Winds can disperse the seeds up to 8 miles.
Coltsfoot, in addition to reproducing by seeds, can also reproduce asexually because it has a rhizome. The rhizome, an underground horizontal stem, sends out shoots that have the exact attributes of the parent plant. It also permits a plant to survive weather that damages the parts of the plant above ground. Coltsfoot rhizomes can reach a depth of 10 feet in the soil and lead to the creation of large colonies.
Coltsfoot often spreads rapidly and crowds out native plants. Its ability to spread asexually and sexually makes it difficult to eradicate. Some areas of the U.S. consider coltsfoot a weed. The USDA Forest Service identifies the plant as invasive in the states of Connecticut, Maine, North Carolina, New Jersey and Tennessee. The service recommends treatment with glyphosate as the best control for serious invasions. You should apply the herbicide after the leaves mature and follow all label directions.
The early European settlers to North America brought coltsfoot with them because of its medicinal uses. The use of the plant as a medicinal herb first occurred in ancient China as a treatment for colds and respiratory problems. In the modern era, Germany once approved coltsfoot as an herbal supplement. More recent research, however, shows that coltsfoot can negatively affect the liver. For this reason, New York University's Langone Medical Center, strongly recommends against any use of coltsfoot for medicinal purposes.
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