by Brian McGinness, Native Plants Class 2003
Common names: Russian thistle, tumbleweed
Synonymy: Salsola iberica (Sennen & Pau)
Botsch. ex Czerepanov, Salsola kali L. ssp. ruthenica
(Iljin) Soó, Salsola kali L. ssp. tragus (L.)
Celak, Salsola kali L. ssp. tenuifolia Moq
Salsola pestifer A. Nels. Salsola ruthenica Iljin
Etymology: Salsola means salty in Latin. Tragus could
come from the Greek tragos referring to a part of the ear or a goat, or
it could come from Hieronymous Tragus the Greek form of the name Jerome
Bock, one of the fathers of German botany.
Growth form: A bushy annual from 6” to 6’. Usually
a little taller than wide with branches curving to produce an overall
slightly spherical shape to the plant.
Roots: Russian thistle produces a fairly deep taproot,
1.5m, with a lateral width of 1.8m.
Stem: Stems are ridged and often have reddish hue to
Leaves: The young plants have long, ½ to 2”,
thin, alternate leaves that drop off as the plant matures and are replaced
by short awl-shaped leaves that are accompanied by sharp, pointed bracts.
Inflorescence/flowers: Male or bisexual flowers can be
white, pink, red, purple, or even orange, in clusters at the base of leaves
in upper branches. Flowers have no petals. 4-5 sepals with wing-like appendages
and are persistent in fruit. Stamens extend beyond the sepals, exserted.
They are wind pollinated and outcross or are self-fertile.
Fruit: Fruits are roughly spherical and are encased in
the persistent sepals. Each contain a solitary seed that is spherical,
slightly flattened or cone-shaped. The coiled embryo is visible through
the translucent seed coat. An average plant can produce 2,000 seeds, a
large plant can produce up to 100,000 seeds.
Similar species: See list of synonyms.
Life history: Annual.
Native/introduced: A non-native invasive plant considered
noxious in most states. Original range includes eastern Russia and Mongolia.
Thought to have arrived in the U.S. in shipments of flax seed about 100
years ago. Now a ubiquitous symbol of the American west.
Phenology: Plants flower from early through late summer. When
the seeds are mature the plant breaks from the roots at the crown and
the whole plant is blown by the wind, tumbling and dispersing its seeds
as it does.
Distribution: Found in every U.S. state except Florida.
Usually associated with disturbed sites.
Young plants are edible for livestock and humans.
An Illustrated Guide to Arizona Weeds, The University of Arizona Press
2. Charters, Michael L. California Plant Names, Word Meanings and Name
3. NRCS Plants Database. http://plants.usda.gov.
4. CDFA, California Weed Eradication Program. http://pi.cdfa.ca.gov/weedinfo/SALSOLA2.html