2018-05-11 / Arts & Entertainment

Golden Beams of Bad and Beautiful Butterweed

Stopping to smell the flowers
By Arlene Marturano

As you travel the interstates around Columbia, you may have noticed the colonies of bright yellow flowers covering the banks of the cloverleaf entrance and exit ramps. Or perhaps in your neighborhood you’ve noticed the flood of gold flowers along roadsides, fallow farm fields, ditches, fencerows, low spots, damp open woods, and bogs.

Butterweed, Packera glabella, aka cress- leaf groundsel and yellow top blooms for four to eight weeks in spring and is a cool-season annual ‘weedy’ wildflower native to the eastern United States from Florida to Illinois.

Take a close look at the clusters of tiny yellow flowers comprising each flowerhead. Individual flowers look like miniature sunflowers, a clue to its Composite clan. The center of each flower is the disc flower from which 5-15 yellow ray florets are attached. Flowers produce fluffy floss similar to dandelion puff balls. The fluff carries seeds airborne to be distributed by wind and water. Self-seeding is eminent.


A bee’s eye view of butterweed. A bee’s eye view of butterweed. Butterweed thrives in damp, sunny sites and prefers disturbed ground like plowed fields and vacant lots.

The floral scent of these beautiful butterweeds is reminiscent of buttercups. A variety of bees, flies, butterflies are attracted to the nectar and pollen from the flowers while birds seek the seeds.

The plant typically grows 18-24” tall with a rosette of basal leaves hugging the ground. Along a light green smooth hollow stem, the leaves appear ragged and deeply lobed or toothed.

While wildflower gardeners and owners of flood prone property appreciate the plant, livestock farmers do not. Since the foliage of bad butterweed contains pyrrolizidine alkaloids, toxins to the mammalian liver, if the plant appears in large quantities in fields, livestock is at risk.


Butterweed likes getting its feet wet and is found near ponds, bogs, streams, and in swampy areas. Butterweed likes getting its feet wet and is found near ponds, bogs, streams, and in swampy areas. If grazing animals like goats, sheep, horses, and cattle consume butterweed in sufficient amounts, it can be fatal. White tailed deer and cottontail rabbits appear to avoid eating butterweed.

What can farmers do? First, farmers must scout their fields in winter for signs of the weed. Crop rotation and winter cover crops are cultural practices used to minimize butterweed on farmland. Livestock farmers should consult their county extension agent for further ways to remove the plant from fields.

The bad and beautiful butterweed will be out of the spotlight in a few more weeks when summer wildflowers emerge to steal the show.



Individual flowers look like tiny sunflowers giving a clue to the plants Composite clan. Individual flowers look like tiny sunflowers giving a clue to the plants Composite clan.

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