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Prickly Russian Thistle [tumbleweed] (Salsola tragus)
Annual Forbs Around Las Vegas, Vegetation Around Las Vegas
Prickly Russian Thistle (Salsola tragus)

General: Prickly Russian Thistle (Salsola tragus) is an invasive weed that does well on disturbed soils. When dried out and rolling across the ground on a windy day, everyone recognizes tumbleweeds. When green, the plant grows long, upward and outward stretching stems that curl up into a large ball or basket (3 to 4 ft diameter) as they dry out. The main stem breaks free from the root when the seeds are ripe, allowing the plant to blow and tumble across the landscape. The non-native species does poorly in competition with native species on undisturbed soils.

Prickly Russian Thistle is a common component of vegetation communities on disturbed soils throughout lower-elevation urban and desert areas in the Lower Sonoran (Creosote-Bursage Flats) and Upper Sonoran (Mojave Desert Scrub and Pinyon-Juniper Woodland) life zones. The species can also be found into the Transition (Yellow Pine Forest) and Canadian (Pine-Fir Forest) life zones to about 8,500 feet elevation in disturbed areas.

Prickly Russian Thistle (Salsola tragus)

Family: Goosefoot (Chenopodiaceae).

Other Names: Tumbleweed

Plant Form: Annual forb that grows long, outward stretching stems that curl up into a large ball or basket (3 to 4 ft diameter) as they dry out.

Height: About 3 to 4 ft.

Prickly Russian Thistle (Salsola tragus)

Stems: Main stem at base to about 1/2 inch diameter. Branches many, thin. Stem green with red or purple stripes when young, aging to yellowish. Stem breaks free when seeds are ripe.

Leaves: Blades 1/3 to 4 inches, thread-like, becoming sharp pointed.

Flowers: Blooms summer through fall. Flower inconspicuous, in leaf axils; look like saucers with pinkish center.

Seeds: Hard and well protected with 3 stout spines. Stem breaks free when seeds are ripe and the stems are curled into a loose ball; wind-blown balls spread seeds across the landscape.

Prickly Russian Thistle (Salsola tragus)

Habitat: Dry, well-drained sandy, gravelly, and rocky soils on upper bajadas and moderate slopes in the lower mountains.

Elevation: Below sea level to about 8,500 ft, but usually found in lower-elevation areas.

Distribution: Widespread throughout North America; native to Eurasia.

Comments: Called tumbleweeds because the mature plants blow on the wind to disperse seeds. A similar species, Russian Thistle (Salsola kali) occurs in California, Arizona, and several east coast states.

Prickly Russian Thistle (Salsola tragus) Prickly Russian Thistle (Salsola tragus)
Prickly Russian Thistle (Salsola tragus)
Spiny stems
Prickly Russian Thistle (Salsola tragus)
Spiny stem and seeds
Prickly Russian Thistle (Salsola tragus)
Prickly Russian Thistle at Red Bluff Spring, Gold Butte NM
More to come
More to come

Note: All distances, elevations, and other facts are approximate. Names generally follow the USDA database.
copyright; Last updated 170922

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