This old-fashioned charmer can be spotted in open, sunny areas across much of the eastern, midwestern, and southern United States. Cottony, silvery-green stems are lined with narrow, green leaves and topped with flat-headed panicles of two to five small, round, whitish-yellow flower heads. Sweet everlasting is an annual or biennial that prefers sandy or silty soils with medium to dry moisture. As an annual, it may grow and develop flowers and seeds within a single growing season. Biennial specimens produce a rosette of basal leaves that overwinters and resumes growing the next spring with flowers and seeds, dying after the first hard freeze. The fluffy seeds spread via tufts of hair for wind dispersal.
This member of the Asteraceae family is named for the sweet, maple-syrup-like fragrance of its crushed leaves. The dried foliage has a stronger scent and was once hung in settlers’ cabins as an air freshener. Another common name, “rabbit tobacco,” refers to the plant’s use as a tobacco substitute by Native Americans and settlers. Sweet everlasting was once in the genus Gnaphalium, meaning “tuft of the wool.” It is now considered to be a "pseudo," or false, Gnaphalium. The species name means “blunt leaved,” which probably refers to the basal leaves’ rounded tips. The mature rosettes of basal leaves look similar to pussytoes (Antennaria neglecta), which tend to be shorter plants than sweet everlasting. A sound-alike, look-alike relative, “pearly everlasting” (Anaphalis argaritacea), has wider, showier flower heads than sweet everlasting.
Sweet everlasting is a host plant for caterpillars of the American lady butterfly. The spiny, black-and-yellow caterpillars build a tent of silk and leaves where they can safely munch on the plant. The foliage may become dramatically wilted, but the plant will bounce back with fresh foliage later in the season.
Native habitats include dry clearings, fields, savannas, upland or sand prairies, tops of bluffs, banks of streams, roadsides, and edges of woods. Use in meadows, pollinator and butterfly gardens, or naturalized areas.
Grows 1-3’ tall and 2’ wide.
Grows in full sun and tolerates a little shade.
Prefers sandy or silty, well-drained soils and average to occasionally dry soils.
Pale yellow or white, ¼” flower heads of tightly packed florets are surrounded by white, papery bracts from August-November. Bracts spread open to release a cluster of brown, bullet-shaped cypselae (dry, single-seeded fruits formed from a double ovary) with silky hairs.
Alternate leaves are narrow, lance shaped, and smooth edged. Upper sides are green, and undersides have white hairs. The central stem is unbranched on the lower half with white, broad-spreading branches on the upper half.
Short-tongued bees, flies, and wasps pollinate the plant. Deer and wild turkey browse the foliage.
Medicinal, Edible, and Other Uses:
Native Americans used all parts of the plant for a range of medical and spiritual purposes, including muscle cramps, local pains, twitching, colds, and coughs. The leaves were added to medicines to sweeten the odor.
Sweet everlasting was burned as a smudge and was used to treat people afflicted by “foolishness” and ghosts.
White settlers used the plant as a freshener and moth repellent for clothes.
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