Western Goat's Beard (Yellow Salsify)

Tragopogon dubius

salsify_goatsbeard_flower_03-12-14.jpg

Photo of western goat's beard or salsify flower
Western goat’s beard is a smooth, hairless annual or biennial with one to several fleshy stalks. The flowerheads look like gigantic dandelions.
Other Common Name
Western Salsify; Yellow Goatsbeard; Wild Oyster Plant
Family

Asteraceae (daisies, sunflowers)

Description

Western goat’s beard, or yellow salsify, is a smooth, hairless annual or biennial with one to several fleshy stalks. Flowerheads are surrounded by narrow greeen bracts, which are longer than the yellow ray florets. The stems are considerably thickened just below flowerheads, which are large and showy but close by noon on sunny days. Blooms May–July. Leaves narrowly linear, both basal and along the stem, the latter clasping and alternate. The seedheads are handsome and large, much like those of dandelion.

Similar species: A closely related plant, also called salsify or oyster plant (T. porrifolius), is very similar but has purple flowerheads and slightly broader leaves. Both species were introduced from Europe.

Size

Height: to 2½ feet.

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Photo of western goat's beard or salsify seedhead
Western Goat’s Beard (Yellow Salsify) Seedhead
Goat's beard is a native of Europe. Many people view it as an invasive weed.
Habitat and conservation

Grows in fields, meadows, waste areas, roadsides, railroads, and other disturbed areas. A native of Europe that has spread nearly throughout North America.

image of Western Goat’s Beard Western Salsify; Wild Oyster Plant distribution map
Distribution in Missouri

Statewide.

Status

At first it seems simple: Three common species of Trapogon were definitely introduced to North America from Europe, and no Trapogon species are native to North America. But researchers found that during the 20th century some naturally occurring hybrids of the introduced species had become fertile. These hybrids have been described as new species, T. mirus and T. miscellus – plants that are unknown in the Old World and arise only in North America. Thus North America now has its own native Trapogon species!

Human connections

The roots and young stems of this plant are edible but are not considered as desirable as the closely related oyster plant T. porrifolius, whose roots taste like oysters. Humans, by moving plants all over the globe, have had an enormous impact on native ecosystems.

Ecosystem connections

A variety of insects, including bees and flies, seek nectar and pollen from the flowers. Mammals, including livestock, generally avoid this bitter plant, which is one reason it tends to increase in overgrazed pastures.