Pussytoes and Painted Ladies

Pussytoes (Antennaria plantaginifolia) and Painted Lady Butterfly

It can happen in any neighborhood. Once Pussy Toes arrives on the Strip, pretty soon the Painted Ladies follow.

Some don’t think a respectable community should have these girls in plain sight, but for the past fifteen years I have encouraged it.

I first met “Pussytoes” at a ballpark.  My oldest son Tyler was spending endless hours in ball practice. One morning I wandered off by myself to explore the wild edges of the park.  The sound of birdsong was a peaceful respite to the voices of the coaches on the field – or my husband Michael in the stands.

And there she was – lying in the sun on a mound of the driest, worst-looking dirt imaginable.  I didn’t know her name at the time, but the silver leaved ground cover was beautiful.

I had to bring her home.

On the ride back, Michael wanted to know why – instead of watching our son play baseball and listening to Michael yell from the stands – I had dug up “dirty bags of weeds” instead.   I tried to show him the beauty of these unnamed plants, but by then he was talking to Tyler about “keeping your eye on the ball.”

So I planted the silver leaved ground cover in my front yard along a sunny island strip.  I looked it up: Antennaria plantaginifolia, or “Pussytoes.” Silvery leaves, totally deer proof, light up any sunny spot. In the spring, they send up their flowers, five fuzzy “toes” that resemble a cat’s paw – thus the name.

 It just so happens that Pussytoes is the host plant for a native butterfly, the Painted Lady.

When the butterflies arrive in spring to flutter around my flowers it’s like watching angels visit.  The Painted Lady is not a woman of disrepute.  She is a beautiful soul that brings joy to my heart.

I plant native nectar plants each season for the butterflies. But when it comes to attracting them year after year, you have to keep your eye on the ball; butterflies need not only nectar, but also a place to lay their eggs, something their caterpillar offspring will munch on.

I have noticed painted lady caterpillars every summer in my front yard, sheltered in the silver leaves of the Pussytoes.  Native plants feed native insects, which feed our wild birds and animals. If we all plant native plants, pretty soon a subdivision can be a thriving ecosystem – with Pussy Toes and Painted ladies on every corner.

For years I’ve listened to Michael complain these can’t be real plants because they don’t sell them at Pike’s.  Three years ago I began to see Pussytoes for purchase online.  I showed Michael so he’d know those “dirty bags of weeds” were actually considered prized ground cover by master gardeners.

He admitted he was wrong and apologized.  It’s fun winning an argument – even if it takes ten years.  You just have to keep your eye on the ball.