This week’s Weed – Western Salsify
ChiloquinNews article July 23rd, 2012
Tragopogon is a genus of flowering plants in the sunflower family that has over 140 species, including the vegetable known as salsify, and a number of common wild flowers, some of which are usually regarded as weeds. In the early 1900s, three species native to southern and central Europe and western Asia were introduced into North America. These three, the western salsify (T. dubius), the meadow salsify (T. pratensis), and the oyster plant (T. porrifolius), are now common weeds, especially along roadways.
What we have here, growing on every patch of vacant land, is western salsify and it is regarded as invasive in most states of the USA and in some Canadian provinces, although apparently with little negative economic impact. The “dubius” in T. dubious refers to the “doubtful” identification of the young plant – it looks like a grass. Unlike some other species of salsify such as the oyster plant, which has purple flowers, western salsify is not generally regarded as edible, though the root can be eaten (raw or cooked) and so can the young stems. No uses in herbal medicine are commonly known. All parts produce a milky sap when broken.
Western salsify is a biennial which sometimes acts like an annual. Salsify grows its first year in a basal rosette. The leaves are long and grass like, and can grow up to a foot in length. When growing as a biennial, it over-winters in the rosette stage. During the second season, it produces a tall stem with a yellow flower on top. The flowers open early in the morning to face the sun, and usually close up by early afternoon. Western salsify and meadow salsify appear similar but western salsify has hollow stems that are inflated below the flower head while meadow salsify has solid stems that are not inflated but are rather uniformly tapered. Also meadow salsify leaf tips are usually curled.
The seed ball is similar to a dandelion, but much larger – up to 4 inches across, and is a dirty tan color rather than white. If the plant has flowered, pulling the plant will not stop the flower from converting into a seed ball. It may look like the flower has closed up and nothing more will come of it, but if you pull them out and leave them on the ground, the next day they will have opened to puffy seed balls, and all your work was for nothing. Once you pull a salsify that has a flower, the only way to be sure not to have more seeds for next season, is to put it into the trash can with the flowers pointing to the bottom of the bin. The root is a thick fleshy tap root. Of course, if you break the stem off when you pull on it, then the root will send up more shoots and you will end up with a salsify bush.