Russian thistle

Encyclopedia Article

Russian thistle              Salsola kali Senn & Pau

Family: Amaranthaceae (formerly in Chenopodiaceae)

Life cycle: Annual

Habitat: Railroads, crop fields, disturbed areas; more prevalent in western Iowa

General description: Bushy plant reaching heights of 3 ft. Lateral branches curve upward giving the plant a spherical shape. Leaves are alternate and needle-like. Leaves on upper part of stems are stiff and prickly, hence the thistle name. Flowers are inconspicuous, located at leaf axils.

Key ID traits: Needle-like leaves; ball shaped mature plants.

Miscellaneous: While there are several tumbleweed species in the western states, Russian thistle is considered the namesake. As the plants dry, the stem breaks at the soil line. Seeds are dispersed as the plants roll across the landscape. Believed to have been introduced initially to North America in flax seed planted in North Dakota.

Weed ID Factsheets Index

Russian thistle seedlings have long, needle-like leaves.


mature plant with spherical shape
Russian thistle is the classic tumbleweed of the western states.

spiny leaves on mature plants resulting in thistle name
Leaves on mature Russian thisle resemble spines and are source of the thistle name.