This week’s Weed – Fiddleneck
ChiloquinNews article July 9th 2012
Fiddlenecks (genus Amsinckia) are in the family Boraginaceae, along with borage and forget-me-nots. Amsinckia contains some of the worst native weeds in the western United States, including A. menziesii var. intermedia (common fiddleneck), A. tesselata (devil’s lettuce), and A. lycopsoides (tarweed fiddleneck). They are annuals, native to western North America and south-western South America, but they have spread widely to other regions. They tend to grow in open, dry, disturbed sites.
Interestingly, this genus also includes many restricted endemics – plants that are restricted in the places they grow to just one small area. A. carinata is restricted to cobbly hillsides in eastern Oregon and it was believed to be extinct until rediscovered during general plant surveys in the mid 1980’s.
The 11 species are hard to distinguish, and their ranges overlap. Several of them have large numbers of slightly different varieties, and several of the species hybridize naturally. Deciding which species you are looking at, is likely to require a detailed examination with an identification key in hand, so I can’t tell you which fiddleneck we have here but it is likely to be common fiddleneck.
The name comes from the flower stems that curl over at the top reminiscent of the head of a fiddle, and have many small yellow flowers, sometimes with an orange tinge, growing only on the outside edge. Many are bristly. Chiloquin fiddlenecks are definitely bristly!
The seeds and foliage of fiddlenecks are poisonous to livestock, particularly cattle, because they contain the toxic pyrrolizidine alkaloids intermedine and lycopsamine, and high concentrations of nitrates. However, the shoots, seeds or leaves of several species were used as food by Native Americans, and the plant also had some medicinal uses. Its seeds are also the favorite food of Lawrence’s Goldfinch during the nesting season of spring and early summer.
The plants are covered in sharp, brittle hairs that irritate human skin (especially when the plants are dry), so don’t walk through a patch of dried fiddleneck if you have bare legs. Young plants that have not developed flower stalks can be pulled with bare hands, but you’ll need gloves for the older plants. Their one redeeming feature for this gardener – they are easy to pull out of the ground at any age.