Home of the Practically Perfect Pink Phlox and other native plants for pollinators

Wednesday, July 26, 2023

Wildflower Wednesday: Elephantopus carolinianus

 I don't think you would be at all surprised to discover that I've found another wildflower to love! This one is called Elephant's foot. It's a very cool flowering plant with large leaves and tiny flowers. When I say tiny I mean tiny and easily missed unless you're crawling around on the ground in a woodland setting. Yes, I do spend time crawling around on the ground looking at plants and I totally recommend it.

Although, I've seen Elephant's foot in wooded areas near by none have naturally occurred at Clay and Limestone. But, thanks to my South Carolina gardening friend Janet, I have some in the garden. I planted them in the spring ephemeral bed along the driveway. They've survived and flowered, but not spread aggressively as some gardeners have reported. Maybe, I should be careful about what I wish for, but, I do wish this one would spread about; it would make an attractive ground cover and massing them would highlight the pretty flowers so much better.

On that note, I've discovered  three seedlings in the cracks in my asphalt drive; which both amuses and amazes me. Whenever I find any plants growing in sidewalk cracks or grooves I conclude that they're perfect plants for Clay and Limestone! Plants that are able to adapt to harsh environmental conditions like heat, lack of nutrients and not much moisture are treasures. It's looking good that  Elephant's foot can survive our summer droughts and shallow soil. It also looks like I will be collecting seeds this fall since propagation appears to be easy! (see The Particulars below)

Elephantopus carolinianus is a member of the Asteraceae family, and can be found along the southeastern United States, from Texas to New Jersey. Easily grown in average, dry to medium, well-drained soil in part shade. It's tolerant of some full sun. From my experience it looks like it will grow best in semi-shade with good drainage. It has been reported to have the potential to become aggressive and weedy in garden settings, so you might want to place it where it can romp. I planted it in several spots to see what will happen, including a cobalt blue container. I think this might be an indestructible wildflower which means it's now a member of the Clay and Limestone rough and tumble wildflower collection. **

Of course, it's also planted in a blue container

The flower in full bloom looks like a large single flower, but is actually many small flower heads which are arranged in compound inflorescences. Elephant's foot flowers don't have the typical daisy appearance, instead each flower head contains only disc flowers. Each individual flower head rests upon leafy bracts and contains 2-5, tubular, pale lavender disc florets.

Clusters (up to 1 inch) of the small purple flowers on branched long stems give Elephant's foot a very colorful & airy appearance from July through frost. The broad leaves can be 8 inch long at the base of the plant, the leaves become much narrower & shorter on the flowering stems. (source)

 Similar in appearance and closely related to the ironweeds (Vernonia). Unlike them, Elephant’s foot has its primary flowerheads grouped together into dense, headlike clusters. Ironweeds have separate flowerheads that are not grouped into such secondary clusters. (source) Large lower leaves provide the inspiration for the common name of Elephant's foot.

Illustration  by Clara Richter of River City Natives check them out

The Particulars

Family: Asteracea

 Common names: Leafy elephant's foot, Carolina elephant's foot Synonyms: Elephantopus flexuosus, Elephantopus violaceus, Elephantopus glabe 

Type: Herbaceous perennial

Native Range: Eastern United States over to Texas, West Indies

Zone: 4a-9b

Height: 2.00 to 3.00 feet (occasionally to 4 foot)

Spread: 2.00 to 3.00 feet 

Flower: Showy lavender, almost white flowers

Bloom Time: August to September or possibly to frost
Sun: Part shade
Water: Dry to medium
Maintenance: Low

Habitat: Low woods, ravines, streambanks, moist thickets, open woods.
Suggested Use: Ground Cover, native plant gardens, massed in woodland garden. Try growing it in a container

Tolerate: Drought, Dry Soil

Propagation: Germination - Very Easy: No treatment. Surface sow & press into soil. Cool temperatures to germinate.

Comments: Easy to identify in the field as no other plant even resembles it. But get on your knees to appreciate the flowers.

**Rough and tumble wildflower: If you're new to Clay and Limestone, rough and tumble wildflowers are simple wildflowers that bloom their hearts out and require the easiest of care. Many have never been hybridized, which means they haven't had their best characteristic bred out of them. Rough and tumble wildflowers are doing the job nature intended them to do, which is to make a lot of food (nectar and/or pollen) and bloom exactly when the critters need it-just in time for provisioning a nest for the winter or for migrating birds. Once bloom is past and the seeds ripen, they become feeding stations for over wintering birds which seek out those seeds.


Wildlife value: Visited  by several insects who feed on it. Occasionally grazed by deer, visited by butterfly and bees. A host plant to Cremastobombycia ignota


Thanks for stopping by. xoxogail

Welcome to Wildflower Wednesday. It's the fourth Wednesday of each month and time to celebrate wildflowers from all over this great big, beautiful world. I am always glad when you stop by and I so appreciate when you make a comment. 


Don't forget our Wildflower Wednesday monthly challenge! 

The first part of this challenge is to do something every month during 2023 and beyond that supports native wildflowers, pollinators, and the critters that visit and rely on our gardens. Activities that increase our knowledge of the natural world are equally as valuable. Helping others learn about nature is included. Golly gee whiz, there are so many things you can do. The second part of the challenge is to post about it somewhere: Your blog, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter or even your neighborhood listserve. Wouldn't an article in the local paper be a coup for nature! Why post it? Because positive publicity is needed to educate our friends, neighbors and communities about how important even the smallest changes we make as gardeners can be for pollinators, birds, insects and mammals that live all around us. 

Why now?  My neighborhood is changing. Yours might be, too. Every day an older home along with many (if not all) of the mature oak, hickory, maple, Eastern cedar and hackberry trees that have been there for over 75 years are cut down. In place of the "bee lawns" composed of Claytonia, Salvia lyrata, Ruellia humilis, fleabane, Western Daisy, Violets, self-heal, clovers, and dandelions that grew so well in the shallow soil that sits on top of limestone bedrock are sodded non-native lawns that get daily watering, whether it rains or not. Gone are the lightening bugs. Gone are the ground dwelling/nesting native bees. Gone is the habitat for insects, spiders and other critters. Gone is plant diversity. Gone are trees that provided for hundreds of moths, butterflies and other insects. Gone are the nesting sites for woodpeckers, hummingbirds, Chickadees and other birds. It breaks my heart. We can't stop the multi-million dollar houses from going up, but, maybe we can make a lot of educational noise and help our new neighbors see the value in providing for critters.

A gardener can hope!

Here's an incomplete list of things you might consider doing or changing in your garden, but don't limit yourself to my list, make your own list or check out the internet for ideas.

Shrink your lawn and make your planting beds larger.

Plant your favorite native perennials and shrubs. Leave them standing after they've gone to seed to continue to provide for wildlife. What you plant in your yard makes a difference to wildlife. I garden for wildlife so every tree, shrub and plant is chosen with wildlife in mind.

Plant more natives and then consider planting even more. "A typical suburban landscape contains only 20-30% native plant species. Try reversing that trend in your own landscape by using 70-80% native species." (source)

Commit to never, ever, ever, ever using pesticides in the garden.

Stay away from native plant hybrids and cultivars that are double flowered. They are sterile and have no pollen or nectar for insects and no seeds for the birds. If possible plant “true open-pollinated native wildflowers”

If you want to garden for wildlife and pollinators, don't let lack of space stop you! Plant your favorite wildflowers in large containers. You just might have the prairie or woodland garden you've always wanted...in a pot!
Create a water feature. Provide water year round that is accessible to birds, bees and other critters.

Show some soil! Our native ground nesting bees nest in bare soil, so don't mulch every square inch of your garden. 

Get rid of the plastic weed barriers in your garden, it's not good for anything.

Invite bugs into your garden. Plant annuals that attract beneficial bugs.

Learn to tolerate damaged plants. Imperfection is the new perfect.

Don't be in a rush to clean up the fall garden. Leave plant stalks and seed heads standing all winter. Leave those fallen leaves or as many as you can tolerate! Insects over winter in the fallen and decaying leaves. Leave a layer of leaves as a soft landing material under trees for moths and butterflies to over winter. Many caterpillars drop to the ground from the trees in the fall.

Make a brush pile. Stack fallen brush, cut tree limbs, broken pots for ground beetles. Ground beetles are excellent at eating "bad bugs'. They're also good bird, toad and small critter food. 

Rethink what you consider a pest. Lots of good bugs eat aphids. Spiders are important predators and bird food!

Add nesting boxes for birds. 

Turn off your yard up-lighting, eave lights and porch lights after 11pm. This is important for nocturnal critters including mammals, snakes, insects, bats, birds (especially during migration). (Birdcast suggestions)

Plant shrubs and small trees that provide berries and nuts.

Keep a nature journal: Observe visitors to the water feature, make note of when they visit. Notice which flowers attract the most pollinators and which ones are just pretty faces. 

Join your state native plant society (Tennessee Native Plant Society)

Join WildOnes even if there's no local group. (Middle Tennessee WildOnes)

Support your local native plant sellers. (GroWild in middle Tennessee, Overhill Gardens in east Tennessee,  Resource Guide TN Native Plant Society)

Encourage your local garden clubs to offer native plant talks.

If your garden club has a plant sale encourage them to sell more native plants.

Get trained as a naturalist (Tennessee Naturalist Program, Almost every state has their own Master Naturalist training program)

Take an online course on tree, fungi and wildflower id.

Take a walk in your neighborhood and observe nature. To quote Joanna Brichetto in Sidewalk Nature "Look Around. Nature is here, is us, our driveways, our baseboards, parks, and parking lots."

Buy the best wildflower, butterfly and bird id books for your state.

Read nature books to your children and grandchildren. Buy them nature books.

Give nature books as baby shower gifts (Nature books for infants and toddlers)

Read! There are hundreds of books on gardening for wildlife, the environment, and rewilding our world. There are delightful blogs with wonderful and informative articles.

If you are already gardening with wildlife in mind then add a few signs that help educate your neighbors. (Xerces Society, Pollinator Partnership)

Set up an information station where neighbors can pick up brochures about your garden and other info. 

Get certified (National Wildlife Federation, check to see what your state offers)



Gail Eichelberger is a gardener and therapist in Middle Tennessee. She loves wildflowers and native plants and thoroughly enjoys writing about the ones she grows at Clay and Limestone. She reminds all that the words and images are the property of the author and cannot be used without written permission.


  1. It is a lovely little thing. Thank you for the info.

  2. I am always learning every time I visit your blog. That very little flower is a surviver indeed.

  3. My goodness Gail, there seems to be no end to the intriguing wildflowers you can find for your “rough and tumble” garden!

  4. What a pretty delicate flower in a very soft purple.


"Insects are the little things that run the world." Dr. E O Wilson