Carnegiea gigantea, Giant Saguaro

Southwest Desert Flora

Home to the plants of the Sonoran, Chihuahuan and Mojave Deserts

Cirsium ochrocentrum, Yellowspine Thistle

Salsola tragus, Prickly Russian Thistle

Prickly Russian Thistle is not a true thistle but has sharp spines around its flowers and stems and quite nasty is handling becomes necessary. Prickly Russian Thistle blooms from July to October but is variable across its great range. Salsola tragusPrickly Russian Thistle has an attractive looking “flower” which is actually a perianth consisting of both sepals and petals Salsola tragus Prickly Russian Thistle has erect multiple stems, ribbed with reddish or purple vertical strips. The plants quickly dry and become hard and prickly. Salsola tragus

Scientific Name: Salsola tragus
Common Name: Prickly Russian Thistle
Also Called:  Common Saltwort, Common Russian Thistle, Leap The Field, Russian Thistle, Tumbleweed, Tumbling Thistle, Wind Witch, Windwitch (Spanish: Chamizo Volador, Maromero; French: Soude Roulante)
Family: Chenopodiaceae, Goosefoot Family. (Salsola tragus is now included as a sub-family (Salsoloideae) in the Amaranthaceae by some botanists.
Synonyms: (Kali tragus, Salsola australis, Salsola iberica, Salsola kali subsp. ruthenica, Salsola kali subsp. tenuifolia, Salsola kali subsp. tragus, Salsola pestifer, Salsola ruthenica)
Status: Introduced
Size: Up to 3 feet, usually smaller.
Growth Form: Forb/herb; stems erect, hispid or glabrous; plants rounded, multiple branches become hard and prickly when dried; stems often red-striped.
Leaves: Green; cauline leaves mostly alternate; leaves filiform or narrowly-linear, leaf tips sharp or spiny.
Flower Color: Inconspicuous, greenish to cream; flowering stalk (inflorescence) spiny; fruiting perianth glabrous.
Flowering Season: July to October.
Elevation: Under 8,000 feet.

Habitat Preferences: Often in dry areas, disturbed areas and cultivated fields.

Recorded Range: Prickly Russian Thistle is widespread throughout the United States, Canada and Mexico.

North America & US County Distribution Map for Salsola tragus.

U.S. Weed Information: The following species of Salsola are listed by 46 state agriculture or natural resource departments; S. tragus, S. iberica and S. kali ssp. tenuifolia: Weeds of Nebraska and the Great Plains, Weeds of the United States and Canada, and Weeds of the West. Plants included here may become weedy or invasive.

Invasive/Noxious Weed Information: The genus Salsola is listed as a Noxious Weed by the state of Arkansas and California and Salsola kali ssp. tenuifolia is listed by the state of Ohio as a "Prohibited noxious weed". Plants included here are invasive or noxious.

Wetland Indicator: In North America Salsola tragus has the following wetland designations: Arid West, FACU; Atlantic and Gulf Coastal Plain, FACU; Eastern Mountains and Piedmont, FACU; Great Plains, FACU; Midwest, FACU; Northcentral & Northeast FACU; Western Mountains, Valleys, and Coast FACU.
FACU = Facultative Upland, usually occur in non-wetlands, but may occur in wetlands.

Threatened/Endangered Information: No data available.

Genus Information: In North America there are 7 species and 7 accepted taxa overall for Salsola. Worldwide, The Plant List includes 174 accepted species names with 78 infraspecific rank for the genus.

In the Southwestern United States, Arizona there are 3 species of Salsola, in California there are 5 species, Nevada has 2 species, New Mexico has 3 species, Texas has 4 species, Utah has 3 species. All data is approximate and subject to taxonomic changes.

Comments: Russian Thistle or Tumbleweed is a typical tumbleweed and the plant breaks free from its base and blows freely in the wind as a "tumbleweed" thus dispersing its seeds. You will often see this weed blowing across roadways or open places and often piling up along fences or other obstacles.

Salsola tragus has been used for a variety of purposes by Western American indigenous peoples.
  • Keres, Western Drug, Psychological Aid, Roots eaten to see into the future.
  • Havasupai Food, Forage; Young plants eaten by horses.
  • Navajo Drug, Dermatological Aid; Poultice of chewed plants applied to ant, bee and wasp stings.
  • Navajo Food, Unspecified; Sprouts boiled and eaten with butter or small pieces of mutton fat.
  • Navajo Food, Vegetable; Very young, raw sprouts chopped into salads.
  • Navajo, Ramah Drug, Misc. Disease Remedy; Infusion of plant ashes taken and used externally for smallpox and influenza..
  • Navajo, Ramah Food, Fodder; Young plants used for sheep and horse feed.
  • See a complete listing of ethno-botanical uses identified at Native American Ethnobotany, University of Michigan, Dearborn.

    References: Date Profile Completed: 2/19/2015, rev. 07/22/2015, updated 04/10/2017, updated format 10/11/2017
    U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service on-line database – ITIS search
    The Plant List (2013). Version 1.1. Published on the Internet; (accessed 04/09/2017).
    Arizona Flora, Kearney, Thomas H., Peebles, Robert H., 1960, University of California Press, Berkley and Los Angeles, California, as Salsola kali ssp. tenuifolia.
    Sergei L. Mosyakin, FNA | Family List | FNA Vol. 4 | Chenopodiaceae | Salsola, 2. Salsola tragus Linnaeus, Cent. Pl. II. 13. 1756., Flora of North America Editorial Committee, eds. 1993+. Flora of North America North of Mexico. 16+ vols. New York and Oxford.
    G. Frederic Hrusa 2017. Salsola tragus, in Jepson Flora Project (eds.) Jepson eFlora,, accessed on April 10, 2017.
    Wikipedia contributors, 'Salsola', Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 22 December 2016, 17:21 UTC, [accessed 10 April 2017]
    SEINet for synonyms, scientific names and recorded geographic locations, 04/10/2017