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Plant of the Week: Spotted Hawkweed

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Plant of the Week

Spotted Hawkweed
Latin: Hieracium maculatum 'Leopard'

Picture of a Hawk Weed plant
Spotted Hawkweed is grown for its interesting reddish-brown blotched foliage. (Image courtesy Gerald Klingaman)
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I’m reluctant to grow anything that has “weed” as part of its name, but sometimes it happens anyway. Such is the case with spotted hawkweed (Hieracium maculatum ‘Leopard’), a plant I first encountered in a rock garden in Utah. Since then, I’ve had some experience growing this species in Arkansas so I thought I’d throw my two cents into the voluminous discussion on the web about the hawkweeds.

Hawkweeds are members of the chicory tribe of the large daisy family and have flowers, including windborne seed, superficially similar to dandelion. They are distributed across the northern hemisphere on all continents with the number of species ranging from a low count of about 800 to a high of more than 9,000. Hawkweeds, like dandelions, have a unique form of reproduction called apomixes where the seeds are produced without fertilization, so new plants produced are identical clones of the original seed parent. This gives taxonomists fits so no wonder they can’t get together and decide how many species of Hieracium exist in the world. 
Spotted hawkweed is a native to central and western Europe.

Like most hawkweeds, spotted hawkweed has an affinity for cooler locations. It is a perennial that grows as a dense rosette with basal leaves that are wooly pubescent, 3 to 5 inches long and ovate in outline with gray-green coloration marked with camouflage marked blotches of reddish-brown. The literature says it produces stolons and can spread sideways from the clump but, at least with the plants I have grown, seems to only creep along in this fashion, forming a tight but slowly expanding clump. 

The flowering panicle appears in mid spring and grows from 8 to 30 inches tall. It is irregularly branched with 20 to 30 yellow blooms produced per panicle. The blossoms are to an inch across and composed of flat-topped ray florets that are followed in a few days by an inch-wide puffball similar to dandelion.
Hawkweeds are named such because of the ancient Greek name for the plants and the modern Latin name – probably based on the way the seeds soar off on their little parachutes – was taken from the Greek name for a falcon. This diverse genus is distributed everywhere in the northern hemisphere and, like all widely distributed genera, has some strong, vigorous growers that tend to be weedy and some that are timid and difficult to grow. However, they all are collectively known as hawkweeds, and therefore damned by association. 

For me spotted hawkweed – at least under Arkansas conditions – has not been an aggressive grower and I’ve seen no sign that it has spread by seed. In cool, moist areas of the Pacific Northwest, one gardener reports spotted hawkweed reseeds here or there in her garden but even under ideal conditions she didn’t consider it aggressive. 

Because of this species affinity for cooler climates, I doubt it will escape cultivation in the South.  It isn’t a real show stopper of a plant so will never gain wide usage in the garden.  But if you are interested in growing it for its attractive foliage but are concerned about possible escape, breaking off the flowering panicle as they appear will eliminate seed production. 
Spotted hawkweed is a smallish plant that could be used to border a shaded walkway or used amongst rocks in the rock garden.  It is not picky about soil type but does prefer a more moist location. It will grow in full sun or part shade. 

By: Gerald Klingaman, retired
Retired Extension Horticulturist - Ornamentals
Extension News - June 28, 2013


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