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Weed Identification

prickly Russian thistle

Family

Chenopodiaceae

Scientific Name

Salsola tragus

Other Common Names:

Russian thistle
common saltwort
salsola
tumbelweed
windwitch

Synonyms (former Scientific Names):

Salsola kali
Salsola ruthenica
Salsola iberica
Salsola pestifer
Salsola australis
Kali tragus

Habit

Grows upright to 3' tall from a brittle taproot. Branches freely and often.

Leaves

Fleshy, alternately arranged leaves are up to an inch long and get smaller up the stem. Leaves are narrow and sometimes have fine hairs.

Identifying Characteristics

This plant's dispersal mechanism is a fundamental characteristic. In the fall, the central stem can become quite woody and brittle near the base, making it break off easily in the wind. Because of its many branches, it can tumble around in the wind and become tangled up with other tumbleweeds, growing larger as it disperses itself across the landscape.

Flower Seed Head

Flowers typically develop in solitary, replacing leaves at the axils near the top of the plant and forming a small spike at the topmost bud. Flowers are small, flanked by a pair of spiny bracts and having a 5-parted calyx that develops wings. Flowers from June to the first frost.

Seed Fruit

Seeds are flat discs or cones. Quite small, seeds can number in the hundreds of thousands per plant.

Where Found

Native to Eurasia, but now widespread in North America, especially in the Upper Midwest and West. Grows well in arid or salty areas, and is commonly found in fields and disturbed grasslands.

Growth Habit

Varies: 
upright and nonwoody
woody bush or tree

Thorns or Spines

not present

Approximate Flower Diameter

pencil

Dominant Flower Color

Varies: 
white
red
pink

Flower Symmetry

bilateral symmetry

Leaf Hairs

Varies: 
no hairs
has hairs

Leaf Arrangement

alternate

Leaf Margin

entire

Leaf Structure

simple

Leaf Stalk

none

Stem Hairs

Varies: 
has hairs
no hairs

Stem Cross Section

round or oval

Milky Sap

not present

Root Structure

taproot

Life Cycle

summer annual

Ochrea

not present

Plant Type

Herb