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Overview

Brief Summary

You only realize just how prickly this plant is when you touch it, purposely or by accident. Each leaf of the prickly saltwort ends in a sharp needle. In earlier days, prickly saltwort was used for making soap. It was an important source of soda ash. When burned, as much as 30% of the ash contains sodium carbonate, one of the essential elements for making soap and even glass! This explains one of the other names for this plant, prickly glasswort. Since the 19th century, the majority of soda ash is produced synthetically. Like several other members of its family, the wind blows the dried up plant over open plains like a tumbleweed.
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Comprehensive Description

Salsola kali is found in all 48 contiguous states (USDA, 2013). Salsola kali, Russian thistle, tumbleweed or saltwort, is an annual weed that grows in salty soil and needs very little water (Colas et al., 2006: 810). The plant stands <1 m in height with spiked branches coming out (Colas et al., 2006: 810).

Salsola section Kali complex is represented by S. lax, S. paulsenii, S. collina, S. kali spp. austroafricana, and S. tragus (Ayres et al., 2009: 1182). In California, a new allopolyploid (having complete sets of chromosomes from different species) species, named Type C (2n = 54), resulted from a form a hybrid formation between S. tragus (2n = 36) and S. kali ssp. austroafricana (2n = 18) (Ayres et al., 2009: 2009: 1182). Type C was collected from the Central Valley, California (Ayres et al., 2009: 2009: 1182)

Salsola kali invaded USA in 1873 in South Dakota (Goeden & Pemberton, 1995: 276). The plant is originally from South Russia and Western Siberia (Goeden & Pemberton, 1995: 276). Loss to wheat farmers in 1894 was estimated at two million dollars (Bainbridge, 1996: 276). Given the negative impact on agriculture, researchers are investigating biologica control agents for this weed. For example, Coleophora parthenica (Lepidoptera) and C. klimeschiella were for the most part ineffective in reducing populations (Goeden & Pemberton, 1995: 276). In addition, the pathogenic effect of fungus Colletotrichum gloeosporioides was tested on S. tragus and S. kali ssp. austroafricana (Bruckart et al., 2004: 307). Infection and biomass reduction was significant at temperatures 25 °C and 30 °C with a minimum dep period of 12-16 h, but effects differed between the two species (Bruckart et al., 2004: 306-7).

For those people with pollen sensitization of Salsola kali, respiratory disease may result (Colas et al., 2006: 810). In Zaragoza, Spain, sensitized patients were tested with extracts of freeze-dried S kali (0.001-1 mg extract per mL). Patients exposed to Chenopodiacea with an altered S. kali extract is successful immunotherapy treatment in reducing symptoms and also has seen an improvement in life quality (Colas et al., 2006: 814).

References

Ayres, D., Ryan, F.J., Grotkopp, E., Bailey, J. & Gaskin J. 2009. Tumbleweed (Salsola, section Kali) species and speciation in California. Biological Invasions 2: 1175-1187.

Colas C., Monzon C., Venturini, M., & Lezaun, A. 2006. Double-blind, placebo-controlled study with a modified therapeutic vaccine of Salsola kali (Russian thistle) administered through use of a cluster schedule. Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology 117: 810-816.

Bainbridge, D. 1996. The tumbleweed centennial in the Antelope Valley. California. California Exotic Pest Plant Council, Symposium Proceedings: 5 pp.

Bruckart, W., Cavin, C., Vajna, L., Schwarczinger, I., & Ryan, F.J. 2004. Differential susceptibility of Russian thistle accessions to Colletotrichum gloeosporioides. Biological Control 30: 306-311.

Colas C., Monzon C., Venturini M., & Lezaun A. 2006. Double-blind, placebo-controlled study with a modified therapeutic vaccine ofSalsola kali (Russian thistle) administered through use of a cluster schedule. Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology 117: 810-816.

Goeden, R. D., & Pemberton, R.W. 1995. 73/Russian Thistle. Biological Control in the Western United States: Accomplishments & Benefits of Regional Research Project W-84, 1964-1989 3361: 276.

USDA Forest Service. 2013. Russian thistle, available at: http://www.na.fs.fed.us/fhp/invasive_plants/weeds/russian-thistle.pdf ; accessed on Feb 18, 2013.

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Distribution

More info for the term: adventitious

Native to Eurasia, Russian-thistle is distributed throughout most arid
and semiarid regions of the world. In North America Russian thistle
occurs from British Columbia east to Labrador and south through the
conterminous United States to northern Mexico [18,34]. It is most
common in central and western regions of Canada and the United States,
and along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts. Limited southern and eastern
inland populations occur along waste areas and railroad tracks [61].
Russian-thistle is adventitious in Hawaii [66].
  • 18. DeLoach, C. Jack; Boldt, Paul E.; Cjordo, Hugo A.; [and others]
  • 34. Hitchcock, C. Leo; Cronquist, Arthur. 1964. Vascular plants of the Pacific Northwest. Part 2: Salicaceae to Saxifragaceae. Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press. 597 p. [1166]
  • 61. Young, James A. 1991. Tumbleweed. Scientific American. 264(3): 82-87. [14143]
  • 66. St. John, Harold. 1973. List and summary of the flowering plants in the Hawaiian islands. Hong Kong: Cathay Press Limited. 519 p. [25354]

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Regional Distribution in the Western United States

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This species can be found in the following regions of the western United States (according to the Bureau of Land Management classification of Physiographic Regions of the western United States):

1 Northern Pacific Border
2 Cascade Mountains
3 Southern Pacific Border
4 Sierra Mountains
5 Columbia Plateau
6 Upper Basin and Range
7 Lower Basin and Range
8 Northern Rocky Mountains
9 Middle Rocky Mountains
10 Wyoming Basin
11 Southern Rocky Mountains
12 Colorado Plateau
13 Rocky Mountain Piedmont
14 Great Plains
15 Black Hills Uplift
16 Upper Missouri Basin and Broken Lands

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Occurrence in North America

AK AZ AR CA CO CT DE FL GA HI
ID IL IN IA KS KY LA ME MD MA
MI MN MS MO MT NE NV NJ NM NY
NC ND OH OK OR PA RI SC SD TN
TX UT VT VA WA WV WI WY AB BC
LB MB NF ON PQ SK MEXICO

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Distribution in Egypt

Nile region, Mediterranean region and Sinai.

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Global Distribution

Northern Hemisphere, especially shorelines.

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Localities documented in Tropicos sources

Salsola kali L.:
Australia (Oceania)
Canada (North America)
Chile (South America)
Equatorial Guinea (Africa & Madagascar)
Java (Asia)
New Guinea (Asia)
New Zealand (Oceania)
Saudi Arabia (Asia)
Sulawesi (Asia)
United States (North America)
South Africa (Africa & Madagascar)

Note: This information is based on publications available through Tropicos and may not represent the entire distribution. Tropicos does not categorize distributions as native or non-native.
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National Distribution

Canada

Origin: Exotic

Regularity: Regularly occurring

Currently: Unknown/Undetermined

Confidence: Confident

United States

Origin: Exotic

Regularity: Regularly occurring

Currently: Unknown/Undetermined

Confidence: Confident

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Physical Description

Morphology

Description

Russian-thistle is an exotic, annual, erect, xerohalophytic forb
[2,6,34]. It is highly branched and rounded in form, growing from 1 to
3 feet (0.3-1 m) in height and from 1 to 5 feet (0.3-1.5 m) in diameter.
The awl-shaped, spiny-tipped leaves bear small, inconspicuous flowers in
the leaf axils. The small, winged seed, retained in the leaf axils
until after plant death, contains no endosperm tissue, but is instead
comprised of a spirally-coiled, complete embryo [34] already containing
some chlorophyll [56]. The root system consists of a taproot, reaching
0.3 foot (1 m) or more in depth, and extensive lateral roots. Under
crowded conditions, roots are shallow [1].
  • 1. Allen, Edith Bach. 1982. Water and nutrient competition between Salsola kali and two native grass species (Agropyron smithii and Bouteloua gracilis). Ecology. 63(3): 732-741. [2877]
  • 2. Allen, Edith B.; Allen, Michael F. 1988. Facilitation of succession by the nonmycotrophic colonizer Salsola kali (Chenopodiaceae) on a harsh site: effects of mycorrhizal fungi. American Journal of Botany. 75(2): 257-266. [2921]
  • 6. Barbour, Michael G.; Billings, William Dwight, eds. 1988. North American terrestrial vegetation. Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press. 434 p. [13876]
  • 34. Hitchcock, C. Leo; Cronquist, Arthur. 1964. Vascular plants of the Pacific Northwest. Part 2: Salicaceae to Saxifragaceae. Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press. 597 p. [1166]
  • 56. Wallace, A.; Romney, E. M. 1972. Radioecology and ecophysiology of desert plants at the Nevada Test Site. Rep. TID-25954. [Washington, DC]

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Description

Herbs, 5-50 cm, papillose to hispid or, occasionally, glabrous. Stems erect to ascending, branched from base; branches arcuate or, occasionally, almost prostrate. Leaves alternate; blade linear, mostly 1-2 mm wide in herbarium specimens, fleshy, usually not swollen at base, apex ± acuminate into rather firm, 1-1.5(-2.2) mm spine. Inflorescences interrupted at maturity, usually 1-flower per axil of bract; bracts alternate, not imbricate at maturity, reflexed, not distinctly swollen at base, apex narrowing into subulate spine. Flowers: bracteoles free or becoming connate and adnate to perianth base; perianth segments with comparatively narrow wing or in lower flowers occasionally wingless (in S. kali subsp. pontica sometimes prominently winged), with weak or firm, acute apex, glabrous; fruiting perianth 4-6(-8) mm diam. 2n = 36.
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Ecology

Habitat

Habitat characteristics

More info for the term: competition

Russian-thistle grows in disturbed or unoccupied sites at elevations
from below sea level (in Death Valley, California) to 8,550 feet (2,600
m) [61]. It grows in any type of well-drained, uncompacted soil with a
sunny exposure [55,61]. It is most frequent, however, in alkaline or
saline soils due to reduced competition. Russian-thistle cannot
tolerate saturated soil for extended periods of time [61].
  • 55. Wallace, A.; Rhods, W. A.; Frolich, E. F. 1968. Germination behavior of Salsola as influenced by temperature, moisture, depth of planting, and gamma irradiation. Agronomy Journal. 60: 76-78. [2441]
  • 61. Young, James A. 1991. Tumbleweed. Scientific American. 264(3): 82-87. [14143]

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Habitat: Cover Types

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This species is known to occur in association with the following cover types (as classified by the Society of American Foresters):

More info for the term: cover

Common in many SAF Cover Types

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Habitat: Plant Associations

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This species is known to occur in association with the following plant community types (as classified by Küchler 1964):

Common in many Kuchler Plant Associations

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Habitat: Ecosystem

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This species is known to occur in the following ecosystem types (as named by the U.S. Forest Service in their Forest and Range Ecosystem [FRES] Type classification):

More info for the term: shrub

FRES10 White - red - jack pine
FRES11 Spruce - fir
FRES12 Longleaf - slash pine
FRES13 Loblolly - shortleaf pine
FRES14 Oak - pine
FRES15 Oak - hickory
FRES16 Oak - gum - cypress
FRES17 Elm - ash - cottonwood
FRES18 Maple - beech - birch
FRES19 Aspen - birch
FRES20 Douglas-fir
FRES21 Ponderosa pine
FRES22 Western white pine
FRES23 Fir - spruce
FRES24 Hemlock - Sitka spruce
FRES25 Larch
FRES26 Lodgepole pine
FRES27 Redwood
FRES28 Western hardwoods
FRES29 Sagebrush
FRES30 Desert shrub
FRES31 Shinnery
FRES32 Texas savanna
FRES33 Southwestern shrubsteppe
FRES34 Chaparral - mountain shrub
FRES35 Pinyon - juniper
FRES36 Mountain grasslands
FRES37 Mountain meadows
FRES38 Plains grasslands
FRES39 Prairie
FRES40 Desert grasslands
FRES42 Annual grasslands
FRES44 Alpine

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Key Plant Community Associations

Russian-thistle occurs in many communities. It is most common along
seabeaches and in disturbed grassland and desert communities, with the
largest populations occurring in semiarid regions [50,61]. Pure stands
occur in southern Nevada between elevations of 4,000 and 6,000 feet
(1,219-1829 m) [9]. A published classification listing Russian-thistle
as dominant is:

Valley grassland [32]

Russian-thistle associates are too numerous to list due to its
widespread distribution.
  • 9. Beatley, Janice C. 1973. Russian-thistle (Salsola) species in western United States. Journal of Range Management. 26(3): 225-226; 1973. [410]
  • 32. Heady, Harold F. 1977. Valley grassland. In: Barbour, Michael G.; Major, Jack, eds. Terrestrial vegetation of California. New York: John Wiley and Sons: 491-514. [7215]
  • 50. Seymour, Frank Conkling. 1982. The flora of New England. 2d ed. Phytologia Memoirs 5. Plainfield, NJ: Harold N. Moldenke and Alma L. Moldenke. 611 p. [7604]
  • 61. Young, James A. 1991. Tumbleweed. Scientific American. 264(3): 82-87. [14143]

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Depth range based on 6 specimens in 1 taxon.

Environmental ranges
  Depth range (m): 1 - 1
 
Note: this information has not been validated. Check this *note*. Your feedback is most welcome.

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General Ecology

Fire Management Considerations

The tendency of dead plants to aggregate against fencelines and
buildings creates a fire hazard. Tumbling, ignited plants can spread
fire, and may bounce across fire lines [61].

Prescribed burning will not control Russian-thistle, since it colonizes
from off-site and thrives in disturbed communities.
  • 61. Young, James A. 1991. Tumbleweed. Scientific American. 264(3): 82-87. [14143]

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Post-fire Regeneration

More info for the term: secondary colonizer

Initial-offsite colonizer (off-site, initial community)
Secondary colonizer - off-site seed

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Fire Ecology

More info for the terms: fuel, wildfire

Fire ecology: Russian-thistle aids in spreading fire. It burns easily
because the stems are spaced in an arrangement that allows for maximum
air circulation [61]. Also, dead plants contribute to fuel load by
retaining their original shape for some time before decomposing [23].
The rolling action of the plant spreads prairie wildfire quickly.

Fire adaptations: Russian-thistle colonizes a burn when off-site,
abscised plants blow across it, spreading seed [61].
  • 23. Evans, Raymond A.; Young, James A. 1970. Plant litter and establishment of alien annual weed species in rangeland communities. Weed Science. 18(6): 697-703. [877]
  • 61. Young, James A. 1991. Tumbleweed. Scientific American. 264(3): 82-87. [14143]

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Successional Status

More info on this topic.

More info for the term: succession

Obligate Intitial Community Species

Russian-thistle is a shade-intolerant initial colonizer in primary and
secondary succession. It colonizes barren desert areas that cannot
support other flora [61], and invades many different disturbed plant
communities [9]. In disturbed big sagebrush communities,
Russian-thistle dominates for the first 2 years. After this time plants
become overcrowded and stunted [49] and are often replaced by mustards
(Descurainia and Sisymbrium spp.) [46].
  • 9. Beatley, Janice C. 1973. Russian-thistle (Salsola) species in western United States. Journal of Range Management. 26(3): 225-226; 1973. [410]
  • 46. Chapman, Joseph A.; Henny, Charles J.; Wight, Howard M. 1969. The status, population dynamics, and harvest of the dusky Canada goose. Wildlife Monographs No. 18. Washington, DC: The Wildlife Society. 48 p. [1889]
  • 49. Schmidt, S. K.; Reeves, F. B. 1989. Interference between Salsola kali L. seedlings: implications for plant succession. Plant and Soil. 116: 107-110. [9300]
  • 61. Young, James A. 1991. Tumbleweed. Scientific American. 264(3): 82-87. [14143]

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Regeneration Processes

More info for the terms: epigeal, fresh, hypogeal

Russian-thistle is a highly effective reproducer. After seeds mature in
late fall the plant stem separates from the root [61]. The plant is
then blown by wind. Seeds, held in the leaf axils, fall to the ground
as the plant tumbles [18]. Further dispersal is accomplished when wind
scatters the winged seeds. The seed wings may aid in seed germination
by absorbing soil moisture. One plant typically produces about 250,000
seeds, which remain viable for less than a year [61]. Fresh seed will
germinate at a very limited range of alternating day/night seedbed
temperatures: 68/41 degrees Fahrenheit (20/5 deg C) [62]. Over winter,
temperature restrictions disappear. In spring, Russian thistle seeds
will germinate at virtually any conceivable seedbed temperature,
including alternating day/night temperatures of 122/29 degrees
Fahrenheit (50/-2 deg C) [63]. In tests conducted in a big sagebrush
community in Nevada, Evans and Young [23] noted the following
germination percentages at various nighttime minimum temperatures:

Temperature (deg C) Germination (%)
-3 0
0 26
3 43
5 56
7 88
9 78
10 88
15 78
20 66
25 29

At optimum temperatures (44 to 50 degrees Fahrenheit [7-10 deg C]),
germination is accomplished within minutes [55]. This extremely short
germination time aids in establishment in desert environments.
Germination is epigeal or hypogeal [63]. The spirally-coiled embryo
unwinds and pushes the root into the soil. Embryos do not survive if
they germinate on compacted soil, or at a soil depth of greater then 5
inches (13 cm) [55]. Russian-thistle seedlings are poor competitors,
and do not establish well in crowded communities [61].
  • 18. DeLoach, C. Jack; Boldt, Paul E.; Cjordo, Hugo A.; [and others]
  • 23. Evans, Raymond A.; Young, James A. 1970. Plant litter and establishment of alien annual weed species in rangeland communities. Weed Science. 18(6): 697-703. [877]
  • 55. Wallace, A.; Rhods, W. A.; Frolich, E. F. 1968. Germination behavior of Salsola as influenced by temperature, moisture, depth of planting, and gamma irradiation. Agronomy Journal. 60: 76-78. [2441]
  • 61. Young, James A. 1991. Tumbleweed. Scientific American. 264(3): 82-87. [14143]
  • 62. Young, James A.; Evans, Raymond A. 1972. Germ. & estab.of Salsola in relation to seedbed environ. I. Temperature, afterripenins, & moist. rel. of Salsola seeds as determined by lab studa. Agronomy Journal. 64: 214-218. [2650]
  • 63. Young, James A.; Evans, Raymond A.; Cluff, Greg J. 1987. Seedling on or near the surface of seedbeds in semiarid environments. In: Fasier, Gary W.; Evans, Raymond A., eds. Proceedings of symposium: "Seed and seedbed ecology of rangeland plants"; 1987 April 21-23; Tucson, AZ. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service: 57-61. [3746]

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Growth Form (according to Raunkiær Life-form classification)

More info on this topic.

More info for the term: therophyte

Therophyte

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Life Form

More info for the term: forb

Forb

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Plant Response to Fire

Russian-thistle colonizes a burn site within 1 to 3 years. It dominated
a big sagebrush community in Idaho at postfire year 2, contributing 58
percent of the total community biomass [26]. On the Mesa Verde Plateau
of Colorado, it codominated a burned area with Bigelow aster
(Machaeranthera bigelovii) at postfire year 3 [22]. Once dominant,
Russian-thistle retains dominance for an average of 1 more year. At
postfire year 3 or 4, populations decline until further disturbance
[61].
  • 22. Hess, Wilford M.; Nelson, David L.; Sturges, David L. 1985. Morphology and ultrastructure of a snowmold fungus on sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata). Mycologia. 77(4): 637-645. [1143]
  • 26. Fraley, L., Jr. 1978. Revegetation following a 1974 fire at the Idaho National Engineering Laboratory Site. In: Markham, O. D., ed. Ecological studies on the Idaho National Engineering Laboratory Site: 1978 Progress Report. IDO-12087. Idaho Falls, ID: U.S.Dept. of Energy, Environ. Sciences Branch, Radiological and Environmental Sciences Lab: 194-199. [953]
  • 61. Young, James A. 1991. Tumbleweed. Scientific American. 264(3): 82-87. [14143]

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Immediate Effect of Fire

The immediate effects of fire upon Russian-thistle were not found in the
literature. Fire presumably kills Russian-thistle and kills at least
some of the seed retained in leaf axils.

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Life History and Behavior

Cyclicity

Phenology

More info on this topic.

The following seasonal development has been reported for
Russian-thistle:

germinates: late April - August [62]
flowers: June - August [31,34,61]
seeds mature: August - November [42,61]
plant dies: first fall frost [10,31]
seeds disseminate: late fall [10,61]
  • 10. Beatley, Janice C. 1974. Phenological events and their environmental triggers in Mojave Desert ecosystems. Ecology. 55: 856-863. [4165]
  • 31. Hamilton, K. C.; Arle, H. F.; McRae, G. N. 1960. Control and indentification of crop weeds in southern Arizona. Bulletin 296. Tucson, AZ: University of Arizona, Agricultural Experiment Station. 67 p. [5096]
  • 34. Hitchcock, C. Leo; Cronquist, Arthur. 1964. Vascular plants of the Pacific Northwest. Part 2: Salicaceae to Saxifragaceae. Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press. 597 p. [1166]
  • 42. Monsen, Stephen B.; McArthur, E. Durant. 1985. Factors influencing establishment of seeded broadleaf herbs and shrubs following fire. In: Sanders, Ken; Durham, Jack, eds. Rangeland fire effects: a symposium: Proceedings of the symposium; 1984 November 27-29; Boise, ID. Boise, ID: U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management, Idaho State Office: 112-124. [1682]
  • 61. Young, James A. 1991. Tumbleweed. Scientific American. 264(3): 82-87. [14143]
  • 62. Young, James A.; Evans, Raymond A. 1972. Germ. & estab.of Salsola in relation to seedbed environ. I. Temperature, afterripenins, & moist. rel. of Salsola seeds as determined by lab studa. Agronomy Journal. 64: 214-218. [2650]

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Evolution and Systematics

Functional Adaptations

Functional adaptation

Branches provide support: Russian thistle
 

Intertwining and interconnected branches of Russian thistle tumbleweeds provide structural support through trussing.

     
  "The tumbleweed is a complex growth of branches with wildly irregular, sometimes temporary triangulation-like, connections on the inside of the plant, creating massive interlocking structural relationships that are held together by barbs (they hook together like Velcro). In the form of a ball, the hooked branches make an extremely strong, structural truss-like sphere that rolls along fields distributing its seed—the form and structure are part of an evolutionary function of propagation." (Dollens 2005:10-11)
  Learn more about this functional adaptation.
  • Dollens, D. 2005. Toward biomimetic architecture. Lecture at University of Florida.
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Molecular Biology and Genetics

Molecular Biology

Barcode data: Salsola kali

The following is a representative barcode sequence, the centroid of all available sequences for this species.


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Source: Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLD)

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Statistics of barcoding coverage: Salsola kali

Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLDS) Stats
Public Records: 11
Specimens with Barcodes: 19
Species With Barcodes: 1
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Conservation

Conservation Status

National NatureServe Conservation Status

Canada

Rounded National Status Rank: NNA - Not Applicable

United States

Rounded National Status Rank: NNA - Not Applicable

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NatureServe Conservation Status

Rounded Global Status Rank: GNR - Not Yet Ranked

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Management

Management considerations

Range: Lambs entering winter ranges for the first time sometimes
develop mouth ulcerations from eating dry Russian-thistle. The
ulcerations usually persist for 2 to 3 weeks. Additionally, rain- or
snow-softened Russian-thistle often has a laxative effect upon
livestock, which may harm already weakened animals [15,53].

Livestock ranges that have deteriorated from drought or overgrazing are
frequently invaded and dominated by Russian-thistle [41,52].

Agricultural: Russian-thistle competes with crop plants for space,
water, and nutrients [55]. In Washington, Russian-thistle ranked
seventh in importance when compared to other crop weeds based upon
hectares infested [60]. Russian-thistle is the primary host for the
beet leafhopper (Circulifera tenellus) that vectors the curly-top virus
of sugar beets, tomatoes, and curcubits (Cucurbita spp.) [18,53].

Russian-thistle shows promise as a hay crop in semiarid regions. When
irrigated and fertilized, Russian-thistle grown on a New Mexican site
produced 73 percent as much total dry weight matter per annum per
hectacre as alfalfa, and contained 65 percent as much protein, while
requiring only half as much water [30].

Other: Russian-thistle is often considered a troublesome weed because
it obstructs roadways and stream channels, buries fence lines, and
causes fire hazards [55].

Control: Burrill and others [14] reported that either 2,4-D or
bromoxynil used in combination with dicamba was 80 to 94 percent
effective in controlling Russian-thistle, and metribuzin used in
combination with chlorsulfuron gave 95 to 100 percent control. Young
and Whitesides [60] reported only 12 percent control of Russian-thistle
with 2,4-D.

Insects from the genera Celeophora, Microlarinus, and Trichosirocalus
are being tested as biological contol agents of Russian-thistle. Insect
populations of these genera have established in California, but
preliminary results suggest that of the three genera, only
Trichosirocalus is able to establish in cold climates. Trichosirocalus
horridis has been successfully introduced in Canada for Russian-thistle
control [40]. To date, there are no data regarding the effectiveness of
these insects as contol agents.
  • 14. Burrill, Larry C.; Braunworth, William S., Jr.; William, Ray D.; [and others]
  • 15. Cook, C. Wayne; Stoddart, L. A.; Harris, Lorin E. 1954. The nutritive value of winter range plants in the Great Basin as determined with digestion trials with sheep. Bulletin 372. Logan, UT: Utah State University, Agricultural Experiment Station. 56 p. [682]
  • 18. DeLoach, C. Jack; Boldt, Paul E.; Cjordo, Hugo A.; [and others]
  • 30. Hageman, J. H.; Fowler, J. L.; Schaefer, D. A. 1978. Nitrogen fertilization of irrigated Russian-thistle forage. II. Some nutritional qualities. Agronomy Journal. 70: 992-995. [1056]
  • 40. Leen, Rosemary. 1991. Climatic associations and establishment of biological control of weed insects. In: Center, Ted D.; Doren, Robert F.; Hofstetter, Ronald L.; Myers, Ronald L.; Whiteaker, Louis D, eds. Proceedings of the Symposium on Exotic Pest Plants; 1988 November 2 - November 4; Miami, FL. Tech. Rep. NPS/NREVER/NRTR-91/06. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service: 189-195. [17866]
  • 41. Lohmiller, Robert George. 1963. Drought and its effect on condition and production of a desert grassland range. University Park, NM: New Mexico State University. 57 p. M.S. thesis. [2715]
  • 52. Figley, William K.; VanDruff, Larry W. 1982. The ecology of urban mallards. Wildlife Monographs No. 81. Washington, DC: The Wildlife Society. 40 p. [2041]
  • 53. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service. 1937. Range plant handbook. Washington, DC. 532 p. [2387]
  • 55. Wallace, A.; Rhods, W. A.; Frolich, E. F. 1968. Germination behavior of Salsola as influenced by temperature, moisture, depth of planting, and gamma irradiation. Agronomy Journal. 60: 76-78. [2441]
  • 60. Young, Frank L.; Whitesides, Ralph E. 1987. Efficacy of postharvest herbicides on Russian thistle (Salsola iberica) control and seed germination. Weed Science. 35: 554-559. [59]

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Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems

Benefits

Value for rehabilitation of disturbed sites

More info for the term: succession

Russian-thistle is beneficial when rehabilitating disturbed sites. It
is frequently an unwanted weed on such sites, but disturbed sites often
recover more quickly when Russian-thistle is left on-site because its
presence accelerates the rate of revegetation [2,18, 29]. If topsoil
remains on the site, Russian-thistle roots are readily invaded by
mychorrhizal fungi harbored in the soil [4]. Russian-thistle does not
form mychorrhizal associations, and fungal invasion results in the death
of the infected root. The fungi consequently invade other
Russian-thistle roots. Russian-thistle populations decline, but
mycorrizal fungus populations increase and subsequently invade the
mycorrhizal association-forming species which comprise the next stage of
plant succession. These species usually flourish as a consequence of
increased mychorrhizal fungus populations [2]. Dead Russian-thistle
plants provide microshading for other establishing plant species [29].
If topsoil is gone, however, Russian-thistle can dominate disturbed
sites for up to 10 years. Such sites benefit more from the addition of
topsoil than the removal of Russian-thistle [3].

Dry Russian-thistle foliage has been used as an inexpensive mulch on
replanted coal mine spoils in Arizona [17].
  • 2. Allen, Edith B.; Allen, Michael F. 1988. Facilitation of succession by the nonmycotrophic colonizer Salsola kali (Chenopodiaceae) on a harsh site: effects of mycorrhizal fungi. American Journal of Botany. 75(2): 257-266. [2921]
  • 3. Allen, Michael F. 1989. Mycorrhizae and rehabilitation of disturbed arid soils: processes and practices. Arid Soil Research. 3: 229-241. [9198]
  • 4. Allen, Michael F.; Allen, Edith B.; Friese, Carl F. 1989. Responses of the non-mycotrophic plant Salsola kali to invasion by vesicular-arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi. New Phytologist. 111(1): 45-49. [13033]
  • 17. Day, A. D.; Ludeke, K. L. 1987. Effects of soil materials, mulching treatments, and soil moisture on the growth and yield of western wheatgrass for coal mine reclamation. Desert Plants. 8(3): 136-139. [223]
  • 29. Grilz, P.; Delanoy, L.; Grismer, G. 1988. Site preparation, seeding, nurse crop methods tested in dune restoration (Saskatchewan). Restoration & Management Notes. 6(1): 47-48. [4696]

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Cover Value

More info for the term: cover

Russian-thistle provides hiding cover for small mammals, songbirds,
upland game birds, and waterfowl [19]. Seven percent of sage grouse in
a southeastern Idaho big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata) community used
Russian-thistle for nesting cover [35].

The degree to which Russian-thistle provides environmental protection
to wildlife has been rated as follows [19]:

MT ND UT WY
Pronghorn ---- good poor poor
Elk ---- ---- poor poor
Mule deer ---- good poor poor
White-tailed deer ---- good ---- poor
Small mammals fair ---- fair fair
Small nongame birds fair ---- fair fair
Upland game birds ---- good fair fair
Waterfowl good ---- poor poor
  • 19. Dittberner, Phillip L.; Olson, Michael R. 1983. The plant information network (PIN) data base: Colorado, Montana, North Dakota, Utah, and Wyoming. FWS/OBS-83/86. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of the Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service. 786 p. [806]
  • 35. Hulet, Brian V.; Flinders, Jerran T.; Green, Jeffrey S.; [and others]

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Nutritional Value

More info for the term: fresh

The nutritional value of Russian-thistle varies by season. In spring
Russian-thistle provides fair nutrition for livestock and wildlife. The
nutritional value of fresh, immature Russian-thistle leaves and stems
was as follows [44]:

Composition (%) Digestible Protein (%)
ash 12.0 cattle 8.5
crude fiber 12.4 goats 8.6
protein 11.5 horses 8.3
rabbits 8.1

The nutritional value of winter forage, after the plant has dried, is
higher. It is a good source of vitamin A and phosphorus. Dry
Russian-thistle from a western Utah rangeland had the following
nutiritional value for sheep [15]:

digestible protein (%) 12.4
digestible energy (cal/lb) 997
ash (%) 22.8
calcium (%) 2.47
phosphorus (%) 0.22
carotene (mg/lb) 4.1

Russian-thistle contains small amounts of oxalate that are probably not
harmful to livestock [12].

Weanling mice showed favorable growth responses when fed a diet of
Russian-thistle seed meal. The nutritional value of Russian thistle
seed meal from Saskatchewan, Canada was as follows [16]:

protein (%) 49.9
ash (%) 7.4
fiber (%) 10.4
oxalate (%) 2.2
  • 12. Blaisdell, James P.; Holmgren, Ralph C. 1984. Managing Intermountain rangelands--salt-desert shrub ranges. Gen. Tech. Rep. INT-163. Ogden, UT: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Intermountain Forest and Range Experiment Station. 52 p. [464]
  • 15. Cook, C. Wayne; Stoddart, L. A.; Harris, Lorin E. 1954. The nutritive value of winter range plants in the Great Basin as determined with digestion trials with sheep. Bulletin 372. Logan, UT: Utah State University, Agricultural Experiment Station. 56 p. [682]
  • 16. Coxworth, E. C. M.; Bell, J. M.; Ashford, R. 1969. Preliminary evaluation of Russian thistle, Kochia, and garden atriplex as potential high protein content seed crops for semiarid areas. Canadian Journal of Plant Science. 49: 427-434. [7]
  • 44. National Academy of Sciences. 1971. Atlas of nutritional data on United States and Canadian feeds. Washington, DC: National Academy of Sciences. 772 p. [1731]

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Other uses and values

Agricultural: Russian-thistle is sometimes harvested for hay and
silage. Russian-thistle hay is credited with saving the beef cattle
industry in Canada and the United States during the Dust Bowl era, when
conventional hay crops failed and no other feed was available for
starving animals [18,61].

Russian-thistle is sometimes used for Christmas decoration [7].
  • 7. Bare, Janet E. 1979. Wildflowers and weeds of Kansas. Lawrence, KS: The Regents Press of Kansas. 509 p. [3801]
  • 18. DeLoach, C. Jack; Boldt, Paul E.; Cjordo, Hugo A.; [and others]
  • 61. Young, James A. 1991. Tumbleweed. Scientific American. 264(3): 82-87. [14143]

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Importance to Livestock and Wildlife

Cattle and sheep eat Russian-thistle, and it is a minor component (less
than 10%) in bison, mule deer, and elk diets [18,45,51,53]. It is an
important prairie dog food [13], and pronghorn show high preference
for the summer growth in years of high precipitation [8].

Russian-thistle seeds are eaten by at least eight species of granivorous
birds, including scaled and Gambel's quail [5,18,20]. Small mammals
also consume the seeds [18].
  • 5. Anderson, Bertin W.; Ohmart, Robert D. 1984. Avian use of revegetated riparian zones. In: Warner, Richard E.; Hendrix, Kathleen M., eds. California riparian systems: Ecology, conservation, and productive management: Proceedings of a conference; 1981 September 17-19; Davis, CA. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press: 626-631. [5865]
  • 8. Beale, Donald M.; Smith, Arthur D. 1970. Forage use, water consumption, and productivity of pronghorn antelope in western Utah. Journal of Wildlife Management. 34(3): 570-582. [6911]
  • 13. Bonham, Charles D.; Lerwick, Alton. 1976. Vegetation changes induced by prairie dogs on shortgrass range. Journal of Range Management. 29(3): 221-225. [3994]
  • 18. DeLoach, C. Jack; Boldt, Paul E.; Cjordo, Hugo A.; [and others]
  • 20. Disano, John; Anderson, Bertin W.; Meents, Julie K.; Ohmart, Robert D. 1984. Compatibility of biofuel production with wildlife habitat enhancement. In: Warner, Richard E.; Hendrix, Kathleen M., eds. California riparian systems: Ecology, conservation, and productive management. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press: 739-743. [5872]
  • 45. Peden, D. G.; Van Dyne, G. M.; Rice, R. W.; Hansen, R. M. 1974. The trophic ecology of Bison bison L. on shortgrass plains. Journal of Applied Ecology. 11: 489-497. [1861]
  • 51. Short, Henry L. 1979. Deer in Arizona and New Mexico: their ecology and a theory explaining recent population decreases. Gen. Tech. Rep. RM-70. Fort Collins, CO: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Forest and Range Experiment Station. 25 p. [4489]
  • 53. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service. 1937. Range plant handbook. Washington, DC. 532 p. [2387]

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Palatability

Russian-thistle is preferred by prairie dogs [13]. It is palatable to
sheep and cattle from early spring until flowering, at which time sharp
spines form, and again during winter when spines are softened by
moisture [53]. Foliage is palatable to pronghorn in summer and fall,
and is palatable year-round in wet years. Pronghorn find it low in
palatability in dry years and in spring [8].

The palatability of Russian-thistle for livestock and wildlife species
is rated as follows [19]:

CO MT ND UT WY
Cattle fair fair fair fair fair
Sheep fair good good good fair
Horses fair poor fair poor fair
Pronghorn ---- ---- ---- poor poor
Elk ---- ---- ---- good good
Mule deer ---- ---- ---- good good
White-tailed deer ---- ---- ---- ---- good
Small mammals ---- ---- ---- fair good
Small nongame birds ---- ---- ---- fair fair
Upland game birds ---- ---- ---- fair good
Waterfowl ---- ---- ---- poor poor
  • 8. Beale, Donald M.; Smith, Arthur D. 1970. Forage use, water consumption, and productivity of pronghorn antelope in western Utah. Journal of Wildlife Management. 34(3): 570-582. [6911]
  • 13. Bonham, Charles D.; Lerwick, Alton. 1976. Vegetation changes induced by prairie dogs on shortgrass range. Journal of Range Management. 29(3): 221-225. [3994]
  • 19. Dittberner, Phillip L.; Olson, Michael R. 1983. The plant information network (PIN) data base: Colorado, Montana, North Dakota, Utah, and Wyoming. FWS/OBS-83/86. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of the Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service. 786 p. [806]
  • 53. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service. 1937. Range plant handbook. Washington, DC. 532 p. [2387]

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Names and Taxonomy

Taxonomy

Common Names

Russian-thistle
tumbleweed

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Synonyms

Salsola australis R. Br. [21,57]
Salsola iberica Sennen & Pau [28,58]
Salsola pestifer A. Nels [65]
Salsola tragus L. [65]
  • 28. Great Plains Flora Association. 1986. Flora of the Great Plains. Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas. 1392 p. [1603]
  • 58. Welsh, Stanley L.; Atwood, N. Duane; Goodrich, Sherel; Higgins, Larry C., eds. 1987. A Utah flora. Great Basin Naturalist Memoir No. 9. Provo, UT: Brigham Young University. 894 p. [2944]
  • 21. Dorn, Robert D. 1988. Vascular plants of Wyoming. Cheyenne, WY: Mountain West Publishing. 340 p. [6129]
  • 57. Weber, William A. 1987. Colorado flora: western slope. Boulder, CO: Colorado Associated University Press. 530 p. [7706]
  • 65. Hickman, James C., ed. 1993. The Jepson manual: Higher plants of California. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press. 1400 p. [21992]

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Several specific epithets for Russian-thistle are used in current
literature. Salsola kali L. is most widely used [7,37,39,43,47,50], and
will be used in this write-up. There are three varieties of S. kali in
North America, with varietal differences based upon degree of pubescence
of stems [50] and size of leaves and fruits [53]. Recognized varieties
are as follows [25,36,50]:

S. k. var. caroliniana (Walter) Nutt.
S. k. var. tenuifolia G. F. Meyer
S. k. var. kali

S. kali hybridizes with S. paulsenii (barbwire Russian-thistle) [9], and
may hybridize with S. collina (no common name in current use) [28].
  • 28. Great Plains Flora Association. 1986. Flora of the Great Plains. Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas. 1392 p. [1603]
  • 7. Bare, Janet E. 1979. Wildflowers and weeds of Kansas. Lawrence, KS: The Regents Press of Kansas. 509 p. [3801]
  • 9. Beatley, Janice C. 1973. Russian-thistle (Salsola) species in western United States. Journal of Range Management. 26(3): 225-226; 1973. [410]
  • 25. Fernald, Merritt Lyndon. 1950. Gray's manual of botany. [Corrections supplied by R. C. Rollins]
  • 43. Munz, Philip A. 1973. A California flora and supplement. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press. 1905 p. [6155]
  • 50. Seymour, Frank Conkling. 1982. The flora of New England. 2d ed. Phytologia Memoirs 5. Plainfield, NJ: Harold N. Moldenke and Alma L. Moldenke. 611 p. [7604]
  • 53. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service. 1937. Range plant handbook. Washington, DC. 532 p. [2387]
  • 36. Kartesz, John T.; Kartesz, Rosemarie. 1980. A synonymized checklist of the vascular flora of the United States, Canada, and Greenland. Volume II: The biota of North America. Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press; in confederation with Anne H. Lindsey and C. Richie Bell, North Carolina Botanical Garden. 500 p. [6954]
  • 37. Kearney, Thomas H.; Peebles, Robert H.; Howell, John Thomas; McClintock, Elizabeth. 1960. Arizona flora. 2d ed. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press. 1085 p. [6563]
  • 39. Lackschewitz, Klaus. 1991. Vascular plants of west-central Montana--identification guidebook. Gen. Tech. Rep. INT-227. Ogden, UT: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Intermountain Research Station. 648 p. [13798]
  • 47. Radford, Albert E.; Ahles, Harry E.; Bell, C. Ritchie. 1968. Manual of the vascular flora of the Carolinas. Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press. 1183 p. [7606]

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Comments: Has also been called Salsola australis and Salsola ibirica; treated by Kartesz (1994 checklist) as a single species under the name Salsola kali. LEM 6Dec94. The common 'tumbleweed' of the American West, where exotic.

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