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.