Elephant’s Foot, Carolina Elephant’s Foot, Leafy Elephant’s Foot
Synonyms of Elephantopus carolinianus (5) )Updated on 3-6-21): Elephantopus carolinianus f. vestitus Fernald, Elephantopus carolinianus var. violaceus (Sch.Bip.) C.F.Baker, Elephantopus flexuosus Raf., Elephantopus scaber var. carolinianus (Raeusch.) Kuntze, Elephantopus violaceus Sch.Bip.
Elephantopus carolinianus Raeusch. is the correct and accepted scientific name for this species of Elephantopus. It was named and described as such by Ernst Adolf Raeuschel in Nomenclator Botanicus in 1797.
The genus, Elephantopus L., was named and described as such by Carl von Linnaeus in Species Plantarum in 1753.
Plants of the World Online by Kew lists 22 accepted species in the genus Elephantopus (as of when I last updated this pageon 3-6-21). It is a member of the plant family Asteraceae with 1,679 genera. Those numbers could change as updates are made (and likely will).
The above distribution map for Elephantopsis carolinianus is from Plants o the World Online. It shows where the species is native in green and where it has been introduced in purple. The map on the USDA Plants Database for North America is the same.
THERE ARE SEVERAL LINKS AT THE BOTTOM OF THE PAGE FOR FURTHER READING AND BETTER POSITIVE ID.
I remember it well… I was running down a wooded hillside toward a creek helping a friend herd cattle at his mother’s farm on September 9, 2019. She had sold the farm and the cows needed to be moved to another location. I had been on top of the hill admiring all the Perilla frutescens (Beefsteak Plant) that were growing by the thousands! I only have a few on my farm just a few miles away so I was amazed (somewhat). Anyway, the cows started coming so I had to bolt down the hill toward the creek. On the way down the hill, running fast as my 58-year-old legs would go, trying to run through the vegetation and vines, I almost tripped because I spotted a plant I hadn’t seen before. I didn’t have time to stop and look because I needed to head off the cows so they would go where we wanted them to instead of where they wanted to. You know what I am talking about if you have ever tried to drive cows… There is more to the story, but you can read about in the post I wrote, Elephantopus caroliniansis and Perilla frutescens Observed, on September 9.
Anyway, once the cows were where we needed them to be, I went back to the hillside to look for the plant and take photos (I remembered to take the camera). I found the plant I was looking for with no problem because there were a lot of them and I took a lot of photos. Later on, when I went back home I identified the plant as Elephantopsis caroliniansis.
Anyway, even though I first observed this plant and took these photos on September 9 (2019), I didn’t officially start writing this page until March 16, 2020. I usually use the winter months to catch up on writing and updating plant pages.
The first plant I started taking photos of didn’t have any open flowers… Then I found some after I started looking around a bit.
Before I started using the drag-and-drop feature on iNaturalist, I was identifying the wildflowers I had found on the Missouri Plants website. Reading and understanding the botanical terminology then rewriting in my own words can be somewhat difficult. Click on the link and you will see what I mean.
COMPLICATED PLANTS DESERVE COMPLICATED DESCRIPTIONS…
I could easily say the plant stems end in a cluster of flowers but that wouldn’t do this plant justice. It is definitely a complicated plant that deserves a complicated description… One may choose to start from the ground up but I am sort of backward in that regard. I first take photos of the whole plant followed by the flowers, leaves then the stems. I never know how much knowledge about plant anatomy readers may have, so I may tend to think I have a lot of explaining to do. Actually, I have to explain it to myself first…
The flower stems end in a cluster of flower heads that are compact or unusually compressed. Close to the top of the stem is a leaf with another 3 1/2-4″ of stem above it. Then there are 3 leaves (foliaceous bracts) which the flower clusters sit on. Bracts and peduncles have short hairs.
A few terms you might see…
Bract=A leaf-like structure at the base of a flower or flower head.
Involucre=Series or set of bracts that surround a flower or cluster of flowers. Sometimes only one surrounds the whole cluster of flowers.
Phyllary=An involucral bract.
Peduncle=A single flower stalk.
Hmmm… Let’s take a closer look. The above photo shows the three foliaceous bracts with a cluster of involucral bracts from which flowers emerge… An involucre is a bract (phyllary) or set of bracts (phyllaries) that surround a flower or cluster of flowers. In this case, I believe there is something a little strange going on…
The above photo is a plant with open flowers…
The flowers are rather strange. Although this plant is a member of the Asteraceae (Composite) family, the flowers are not “daisy-like”. They only have disc flowers. I also find that strange because “disc” flowers are normally in the center and the “ray flowers” are what we think of as petals also known as florets. GEEZ!
Hmmm… Something is a bit odd…
In layman’s terms, Missouri Plants says the corollas (another name for petals) are lilac to whitish and are irregularly 5-lobed. The flower emerges from the phyllaries… WAIT A MINUTE! Take a closer look at that mass of petals… Something is weird!
How many flowers do you see? One? Count again… I see at least four.
I don’t mean four flowers in the entire photo… Of course, there are four. I mean how many do you see per flower… Each bract has a set of four loose phyllaries (actually 2 pairs of 2) in which 4-5 flowers emerge from. Have you ever seen a Fan Flower (Scaevola sp.) where the petals are on only on half the flower? I think that’s what is going on here…
While I was looking for websites to link to this page for further reading, I found this great post on the Arkansas Native Plant Society site. You know what they say… A picture is worth a thousand words. The article was written by ANPS member Sid Vogelpohl and he also took the photos. This is a great post as are all the posts on their site…
As I mentioned and the above photo clearly shows, each involucral bract produces 2 sets of 2 phyllaries from which 4-5 flowers emerge. The flowers fit together making them appear there is only one.
Lower leaves are quite large and “spatula-like”. One website says these lower leaves are 5″ long, but just guessing, I would say they are closer to at least 8″.
The leaves grow in an “alternate” pattern along the stems and have no petioles (sessile-no stem). Missouri Plants says: “Alternate, sessile, elliptic to oblanceolate or spatulate, acute to acuminate, shallow serrate to crenate-serrate, slightly scabrous and pubescent below, sparse pubescent and shiny dark green above, to -30cm long, -10cm broad, tapering to base.” That is about 11″ long by about 4″ wide and the leaves attach directly to the stem with no petiole (sessile). Spatulate is a good word because the leaf could be considered like a spatula with a handle…
The plant’s upper leaves are MUCH smaller and kind of oval in shape. Here you can see this leaf is what is meant when Missouri Plants says: “Peduncles subtended by a single foliaceous bract.” This leaf is where the “inflorescence” begins and is part of it as the “single foliaceous bract.” At least that is my opinion. Subtended means “under” so it makes sense.
Besides a camera, I also need to remember to take the magnifying glass, a small notepad and pen… A field guide would also be promising. I haven’t normally been one to bring plants home from other locations, but I am really tempted with this one. I saw this plant again while I was helping Jay at either his farm or in the back yard of his mothers (the one she sold). Apparently, this plant is fairly common in that neck of the woods.
I think I read somewhere that the bracts contain a single seed that doesn’t fall out. The whole bract falls off with the seed still inside.
I was fairly busy during the summer in 2020 and didn’t do much wildflower hunting. Maybe I will find this species again somewhere in 2021. I will say, Elephantopsis carolinianus is one of the most interesting species I have ever run across.
I have enjoyed photographing and learning about the many wildflowers growing on the farm in Windsor, Missouri in Pettis County (Henry County is across the street) and other areas. The city limits is also across the street and the north and south side of the farm. I have grown over 500 different plants and most have pages listed on the right side of this site. I am not an expert, botanist, or horticulturalist. I just like growing, photographing and writing about my experience. I rely on several websites for ID and a horticulturalist I contact if I cannot figure them out. Wildflowers can be somewhat variable from location to location, so sometimes it gets a bit confusing. If you see I have made an error, please let me know so I can correct what I have written.
I hope you found this page useful and be sure to check the links below for more information. They were written by experts and provide much more information. If you can, I would appreciate it if you would click on the “Like” below and leave a comment. It helps us bloggers stay motivated. You can also send an email to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I would enjoy hearing from you.