Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center
This August-blooming plant is found nearly throughout North Dakota, although there are but few records in our southcentral and southwestern counties. Northern hawkweed is circumboreal in distribution. In North America, the plant can be found as far south as Colorado and Nebraska.
Northern hawkweed is about 3 feet tall. Stems arise perennially from a short tough basal caudex. Stems and leaves contain milky juice. The alternate, lance-shaped leaves are up to 4 inches long and 3/4 inch wide. Leaves have a few coarse teeth and stout hairs along the margins. About 40-100 tiny yellow flowers are grouped into heads about 1 inch wide and 1/2 inch tall. There are no ray flowers as there are in most members of the sunflower family (Asteraceae). The flower heads form in loose terminal clusters atop nearly bare branches.
Look for this plant in low, sandy spots on the prairie or in open sandy woodland. Northern hawkweed is never abundant in our area, and so its palatability to livestock is unknown. The plant has no known economic value, but some European hawkweeds are made into teas to cure bronchitis and diarrhea. A Central American hawkweed is reputed to ease pain in livestock.
There are about 200-300 species of Hieraceum in temperate and boreal climates worldwide. The generic name was derived from the Greek hierax, "a hawk". The Ancients, as recorded by Pliny and others, supposed that hawks used the plant to strengthen their eyesight. The specific name umbellatum means "umbelled" in botanical Latin. An umbel is a flower cluster where the flower "stems" (peduncles) spring from the same level. Northern hawkweed was first named for science by Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778), the Swedish father of modern botany.