Family: Daisy Family (Compositae)
Origin and Distribution: Western salsify, which originated in Eurasia and Northern Africa, was introduced into the U.S. at the beginning of the 1900's as a garden plant. It escaped cultivation and became naturalized throughout an area extending south from New York into Virginia, west to California, and north to Illinois. In Ohio, the weed is primarily found in the northeastern part of the state. Western salsify grows in meadows, fields, and roadsides. It is especially troublesome in perennial horticultural crops. The species prefers dry, open sites.
Plant Description: Western salsify is a biennial (rarely a short-lived perennial) that produces foliage with a grass-like appearance. However, all parts of the plant contain a milky juice, which is not a typical trait of grasses but is a common feature among species in the Asteraceae Family. During the first year of growth, western salsify forms a rosette of long narrow leaves that look like blades of grass. The following year, 2-inch-wide yellow flower heads form at the ends of leafy stems. Flowers generally open in the morning and close by mid-day. Flowers mature into fluffy white seed heads that could easily be mistaken for those of dandelions except they are about twice as large. The plant reproduces by seeds.
- Root system - A long taproot is produced that is thick, fleshy, branched, and exudes a milky juice when cut or broken.
- Seedlings & Shoots - The first two seed leaves (cotyledons) are linear and grass-like. Subsequent leaves are long, narrow, and somewhat downy-hairy. During the first year of growth, plants produce grass-like leaves in a basal rosette. All parts of young plants exude a milky juice when cut or broken.
- Stems - After growing as a rosette for a year, plants produce erect, leafy stems that are smooth, round, fleshy, and can grow to 3 feet tall. Each stem terminates in a solitary flower head. Stems exude a milky juice if cut or broken.
- Leaves - Leaves are alternate (1 leaf per node), 1 foot long, narrow, light green, fleshy, and have smooth edges. Leaf bases broaden where they clasp the stem and narrow to a sharp tip. Leaves look similar to grass blades, but unlike grass, they exude a milky juice if broken.
- Flowers - A single flower head forms at the end of a long, hollow stem. Each flower head is 1 to 2 1/2 inches wide and composed of many yellow ray flowers. Beneath each flower head are 10 or more green, slender, pointed, leaf-like bracts (phyllaries) that are longer than the flowers. Flowers generally open in the morning and close at mid-day.
- Fruits & Seeds - Mature seed heads are 3 to 4 inches wide, white, fluffy, round, and similar to but larger than those of dandelions. The single-seeded fruits are rough, ridged, and more than half of their length is a slender beak with a white, parachute-like circle of feathery bristles (pappus) attached to the tip. Length of fruit including beak is about 1 1/4 inches.
Similar Species: Western salsify and meadow salsify (Tragopogon pratensis) appear similar except western salsify has hollow stems that are inflated below the flower head while meadow salsify has solid stems that are not inflated below the flower but rather uniformly tapered. Meadow salsify leaf tips are usually curled or curved and the edges of its phyllaries are purplish.
Biology: The probability that flowering will be initiated increases with increasing rosette size. Rosette leaves from the previous year can usually be detected as dried remnants at the base of a flowering plant. Flowering begins in May and continues until September. Flowers open and face the sun each morning, twist slightly as they follow the sun until midday, and generally close in the afternoon. The hairy pappus attached to seeds aids in their dispersal by wind, which can scatter seeds a great distance. All plant parts exude a milky juice when cut or broken that is sticky and bitter and makes the plant unpalatable to grazing animals. To control, western salsify should be mown as soon as flowers appear and again later. Badly infested fields should be plowed and cultivated for a year. There are herbicides available that successfully control this weed in grasslands.
Toxicity: None known.
Facts and Folklore:
- 'Tragopogon' is from the Greek 'tragos' meaning goat and "pogon" meaning beard.
- The common name 'Joseph's Flower' refers to Joseph, husband of the Virgin Mary, who commonly is depicted as bearded.