Salsify, or Goat’s Beard

2017 March 4

This plant was going to seed alongside our road on July 7, 2016. It was quite tall, and while I don’t have a picture of it here, it exudes a milky latex if a stem is broken.


I just missed the flowers, but I’ve seen them (they are composite-type flowers, with long, thin, yellow ray petals). Once the flowers finish, they close up and drop their petals, and finish ripening while looking like this:


The flowers aren’t particularly showy, but once the seeds are ripe, the seedhead opens up into the huge globe of parachute-type seeds that these plants are really known for. They look a lot like dandelion seedheads, aside from the sheer size (note my fingertip for scale. There are no perspective tricks, it really was that big).


Once the seeds blow away on their parachutes, the remaining seedhead looks like this:


This is pretty clearly a Salsify (also commonly known as Goat’s Beard, although there are other plants also called “Goat’s Beard” that aren’t closely related, or even very similar). From what I remember the blossoms looking like, I think it is most likely Tragopogon dubius, although it could possibly also be Tragopogon pratensis. Both of these are non-native species that were introduced from Eurasia, and have become pretty common across North America.

I never tried tasting these, because in my experience white latex-type saps like they have tend to be impossibly bitter. But, according to Wikipedia, a plant in this same genus has an edible root that is supposed to taste a bit like oysters. And, in Armenia, supposedly kids harvest and dry the sap of these very plants to make chewing gum. So maybe it isn’t as nasty as all that. Then again, maybe it is. It wouldn’t be the first time that other people ate and enjoyed things that taste unpalatably bitter to me.

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