Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center
Found throughout North Dakota, smooth hawk's-beard grows from southern Saskatchewan to Texas and west to Washington and California, at elevations up to 10,000 ft.
Smooth hawk's-beard is a native perennial from a taproot. One-to- four nearly smooth stems grow about two feet tall and are branched at the tip. Each stem has about 2-6 flower heads. The long-petioled leaves are up to 8 inches long. Many are deeply cut to the midrib and have a few rounded or triangular teeth. Stem leaves are purple at the base. Flower heads are about 3/4 inch wide, with yellow rays that fade to whitish. The plant has milky juice. The achenes ("seeds") are brown with a dense set of white bristles.
Look for smooth hawk's-beard in low prairie meadows, often where water is quite salty. Shoots of an Asian Crepis are consumed as a vegetable, but no mention is made of smooth hawk's-beard in this regard. Cattle likely consume it, for our records show the plant about seven times more abundant where grazing was light versus heavy.
The hawk's-beards are members of the large and economically important sunflower family (Asteraceae). Aster means "star" in Greek, in reference to the radiate arrangement of the flowers in the heads. The genus contains about 200 species worldwide, 12 of which are native to the Western Hemisphere. These are all found in boreal or western North America. Crepis is Greek for a "boot" or "sandal", the name used for some plant by Pliny. Runcinata means "sharply incised" in botanical Latin, in reference to the leaves.
Smooth hawk's-beard was first collected by Edwin James (1797-1861) who accompanied Major S.H. Long's Expedition to the Rocky Mountains (1819-1820). The plant was later described for science by the preeminent American botanists John Torrey (1796-1873) and Asa Gray (1810-1888) in their monumental A Flora of North America (1843). Gray's Manual of Botany (1848), now in its 8th edition, remains the standard reference to plants of eastern North America.