Hoary puccoon's small, bright orange flowers arise on spirally condensed stalks that uncoil and elongate as more flowers open toward the tip. Many stalks arise from one root system; this plant begins flowering very low to the ground. Flowers are many, from coiled flowering stalks; each flower is tubular, though this is hardly visible, with 5 lobes, orange yellow, rarely pale yellow. Blooms March–June. Leaves are inconspicuous at flowering time, alternate, lanceolate, pointing upward, very hairy. The fruits are small nutlets that are shiny white to yellowish brown.
There are four species of Lithospermum in our state, three of which are called "puccoons." Yellow puccoon (L. incisum) has flowers lemon yellow or bright yellow, with the lobes toothed, fringed, or wrinkled. Plains puccoon (L. carolinense) is similar to hoary puccoon, but its foliage is rough-hairy with stiff hairs (not softly hairy) and has longer flowers.
Habitat and Conservation
There is poetry in many wildflower names. "Hoary" means gray or white with age, and this plant certainly does have such hairy foliage. "Puccoon" is from the Powhatan/Virginia Algonquian word "poughkone" and refers to plants that yield a purple, red, or yellow dye.
Considering that "puccoon" pretty much means "plant for making dye," there are many different kinds of wildflowers and herbs commonly called "puccoon" that have little relationship to one another. For example, bloodroot, in a completely different family, has been called "Canadian puccoon" in some regions. The only similarity is that both plants at some point yielded dye.