Native to the eastern United States, up to Michigan, and across to Texas and Kansas, this perennial plant can be found in forest gaps, along the edges of fields and forests, in thickets, bottomlands, and grasslands. It can grow in full sun or part shade and in a wide range of soil moisture conditions.
Bear’s foot (Smallanthus uvedalius (L.) Mack. Ex Small (synonym: Polymnia uvedalia)) can grow to be eight to ten feet tall. It has very large leaves – sometimes 10 to 12 inches in diameter. The leaves are lobed (3-5 lobes) and hairy. Leaves are arranged oppositely on the stalk.
This native plant is in the aster family, so the flowers resemble miniature sunflowers. The blooms are about 2-3 inches in diameter and are composed of two types of flowers: bright yellow ray flowers encircling disk flowers. Only the ray flowers (the yellow “petals”) produce seeds. There are 7 to 13 ray flowers surrounding the disc flowers.
The flowers bloom in July through September and can be found clustered at the end of the tall plant stalks. The stem of the plant is hollow and smooth.
This plant is also known as Hairy Leafcup or Yellow Leafcup. The leaves have long, winged petioles and the leaves form a small cup around the stem, hence the source of one of the common names for this plant – leafcup.
Propagation of Bear’s Foot
Seeds should be sown in fall or spring. I found one mention of someone propagating the plant by basal cuttings, but it is unclear when to do so and how successful this will be.
Some people think the outline of the large leaves resemble the print of a bear’s paw, hence one of the common names of this plant, bear’s foot.
The genus Smallanthus was named for American botanist John Kunkel Small (1869-1938). This plant is the only one in the genus in the U.S.
Many pollinators are attracted to the flowers and use its nectar. Bees, wasps, and flies have been spotted using the plant.