Scientific Name: Salsola tragus

Common Name: prickly Russian thistle

Other Common Names: tumbelweed, Russian thistle, windwitch, common saltwort, salsola

Synonyms: Salsola australis, Salsola iberica, Salsola kali, Salsola pestifer, Salsola ruthenica, 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.

  • Life cycle: summer annual

  • Milky sap: Not Present

  • Plant type: Herb

  • Thorns: Not Present

  • Plant family: Chenopodiaceae

  • Leaf arrangement: alternate

  • Leaf shape: lance

  • Ochrea: Not Present

  • Leaf margin: entire

  • Stem hairs: has hairs; no hairs

  • Flower color: red; pink; white

  • Growth habit: upright and nonwoody; woody bush or tree

  • Stem: round or oval

  • Leaf structure: simple

  • Leaf hairs: has hairs; no hairs

  • Flower diameter: pencil

  • Flower symmetry: disymetry

  • Root structure: taproot

  • Leaf stalk: none