A common garden and lawn weed in the Southeastern US is Asiatic false hawksbeard
(Youngia japonica). That’s a pretty unusual name considering hawks don’t even have beards. I honestly can’t begin to understand that one.
Numerous plants have crazy names but false hawksbeard is about the most unusual. It’s a herbaceous plant with soft crepe paper textured leaves growing in a circular pattern. We call this growth type a basal rosette and it’s common to members of the composite family.
This family is highly evolved and contains lettuce, sunflowers, dandelions and many other plants. Flowers are comprised of a ring of rays that resemble petals. Some can be difficult to distinguish. There are thousands of yellow flowered composite weeds, sometimes prompting botanists to curse them.
This one has foliage that strongly resembles young Gerbera Daisy plants. Flowers are dandelion-like but smaller and in clusters up to two feet tall. Unlike dandelions, flower stalks are solid and not hollow and latex filled. Yellow petal-like rays dry up and fluffy seeds are blown by wind. To compound matters, plants are prolific seed producers.
False hawksbeard grows well in sun to partial shade. It’s what we call a hardy annual and it tolerates substantial subfreezing weather. It’s also non-native and invasive, but preventing plants from flowering can go a long way toward controlling them.
False hawksbeard has no underground structures which can perpetuate new plants. This makes control easier. Plants are nuisance weeds in lawns and gardens but certainly not noxious ones. They seldom spread in large numbers to wilderness areas.
When plants are young they make tasty and tender salad greens. If cooked greens are more your passion they are fine for that too. Just don’t overcook them. I think false hawsbeard greens far exceed dandelion for texture and mild flavor, and gathering enough for a meal is rarely a problem.
Once plants flower the foliage can be bitter and I suggest pursuing other table options. Leaves are the only edible parts of this plant and they should be young. Plants grow pretty much all year, but greens seem to be most palatable in cooler weather.
Many medicinal uses are listed for this plant, but specific information is sketchy. I’ve never collected this species for anything other than salad or cooked greens. Several sources claim it has been used to treat snakebite, conjunctivitis, skin disorders, tonsillitis, toothache and urinary tract infections.
I would refrain from using any herbal medicine without consulting a medical professional. Too many people post information on the internet that they simply parroted from someone else. Avoid chain letter holistic medicine. It discredits legitimate herbalists.
That said, Asiatic false hawksbeard foliage is completely safe. Plants show no toxicity to pets and they aren’t difficult to control even though they are aggressive. Most broadleaf herbicides will kill them. However, they are normally only prolific in the winter when mowing is limited, so why worry about them unless you want the perfect lawn. Something with a name that strange needs a little love.
Ted Manzer teaches agriculture at Northeastern High School.