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Plants of the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden

The oldest public wildflower garden in the United States

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Common Name
Meadow Goatsbeard (Yellow Goatsbeard, Jack-go-to-bed-at-noon, Meadow Salsify)

 

Scientific Name
Tragopogon pratensis L.

 

Plant Family
Aster (Asteraceae)

Garden Location
Upland

 

Prime Season
Late Spring to Late Summer

 

 

Plants of the genus Tragopogon are commonly called "Goatsbeards" while the different species of the genus have various and sometimes confusing common names. Goatsbeards are a close relation to the Hawkweeds. This species' alternate common name of Jack-go-to-bed-at-noon refers to the flower closing by noon each day except when it is cloudy. "Goatsbeard" refers to the fuzzy seed head.

Meadow Goatsbeard is an introduced and naturalized biennial, forming a rosette the first year and then the leafy stem the second year. The stems are erect, contain a milky juice, are hollow in the lower sections, and are usually up to 24 inches high or enough to raise the flower above surrounding vegetation. Stems are initially covered with flattened matted hairs that then turn woolly and drop off leaving a smooth mature stem.

Leaves: The few upper leaves are grass like, but wider, and clasp the stem, which is erect and can slightly branch. Upper leaves are short, lower leaves can be 8 to 9 inches long, all bluish-green in color and are backward curving near the tips. Margins are smooth, the surfaces are like the stem - matted flattened hairs initially, then becoming smooth. Stem leaves are alternate.

The floral array is a single terminal flower head on a long stalk. The stalk below the flower head is not enlarged prior to seed formation as it is in some other members of the genus.

The flower heads are up to 2 1/2 inches wide, composed of fertile yellow ray florets with fringed tips (comprised of 5 small teeth). The outer yellow rays are much longer than the inner rays. The anthers of the five stamens are black and the stamen filaments tightly surround the style which has a bifurcated tip. Around the outside of the flower head are 8 to 12 narrow green leaf-like, phyllaries, in a single series, that extend to or just beyond the tips of the outer yellow rays.

Seed: The closed flower will change quickly to a fluffy seed head. The brown seeds (called cypselae) are long (15 mm) and ribbed with a long whitish beak to which is attached a fluffy tannish-white pappus. Between the ascending spines of the pappus is an interlaced feathery down that is finer than the finest spider web. This forms a tall narrow cup to umbrella-like structure. This structure is easily taken up by the wind resulting in the plant self-seeding.

 

Habitat: Frequently seen in roadsides ditches and other untended patches of ground this species grows in poor soils, moist to mesic conditions, full sun preferred. It has a large taproot and propagates by re-seeding.

Names: "Goatsbeard" refers to the fuzzy seed head. See bottom of page for some notes on common name confusion. The genus Tragopogon is from two Greek words, tragos, meaning 'goat' and pogon, meaning 'beard'. The species, pratensis means 'of the meadows'. The author name for the plant classification, 'L.', refers to Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778), Swedish botanist and the developer of the binomial nomenclature of modern taxonomy. An older scientific name is Tragopogon lamottei Rouy.

Comparisons: A similar plant in the same genus is Yellow Salsify, Tragopogon dubius Scop. which differs from this one in that the flower phyllaries are much longer, the leaves do not reflex backward and the flower stalk enlarges below the head. It also prefers drier sites. See comparison below.

See bottom of page for notes on the Garden's planting history, distribution in Minnesota and North America, lore and other references.

Flower Seedhead

Above: The flower head has fertile yellow ray florets, the outer much longer than the inner, which surround the central receptacle. The seed head. Note the cup shaped structure of the seed bristles.

Below: The sequence of flower development.

Goatsbeard bud Goatsbeard flower Seed head

Below: 1st photo - The larger lower leaf of the plant which flexes backward and forms a sheath around the stem. 2nd photo - stems have a milky juice and lower stems are hollow.

Goatsbeard Leaf Stem juice

Below: 1st photo - Around the flower head are 8 to 12 narrow green leaf-like, phyllaries, in a single series, that extend to or just beyond the tips of the outer yellow rays. 2nd photo - The underside of the leaf has very short fine hair giving a soft texture, that disappears as the plant ages. 3rd photo - The cup or umbrella-like structure formed by the seed, the long beak and the pappus.

Phyllaries leaf underside Seed and pappus

Below: The brown seeds are long (15mm) and ribbed with a long whitish beak to which is attached a fluffy tannish-white pappus. Between the ascending spines of the pappus is an interlaced feathery down that is finer than the finest spider web. This forms a tall narrow cup to umbrella-like structure.

Seeds

Below: A comparison. 1st photo - Full flower development of Meadow Goatsbeard. Note the shorter inner rays. 2nd photo - Full flower development of the similar Yellow Salsify, T. dubius Scop. with the much longer green phyllaries.

Goatsbeard flower Yellow Salsify

Notes:

Notes: In 1917 Eloise Butler noted planting two dry roots of T. pratenis that she received from North Dakota. This is her first note about the plant in her Garden Log. In May 1919 she noted one plant on the west hillside. The species was listed on Martha Crone's 1951 inventory of plants in the Garden at that time. It is present in 22 counties of Minnesota but is not native to the state, or to the United States or Canada. It is a European import, quite common in the British Isles. There is notation in old works about medicinal qualities of the plant but such use was not reported in post-medieval times. A similar plant is Yellow Salsify (Tragopogon dubius).

There are only two species of Tragopogon normally found in Minnesota: T. dubius, Yellow Salsify; and T. pratensis, Meadow Goatsbeard. It must be noted that some references use different common names. We use here the common names as used by Flora of North America, the University of Minnesota Herbarium and the Minnesota DNR. The Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden census and several other references have these differently - applying Meadow Goatsbeard to T. dubius. Another reason to use scientific names.

Older Lore: Gerard (Ref.#6a) writes about Goatsbeards: "It shutteth itselfe at twelve of the clocke, and sheweth not his face open until the next daies Sunne do make it flower anew. Where-upon it was called go-to-bed-at-noone; when these flowers be come to their full maturitie and ripenesse it groweth into a downie blowe-ball like those of Dandelion, that is carried awaie with the winde. The seede is long, having at the ende one peece of that downie matter hanging at it."

References and site links

References: Plant characteristics are generally from sources 1A, 32, W2, W3, W7 & W8 plus others as specifically applied. Distribution principally from W1, W2 and 28C. Planting history generally from 1, 4 & 4a. Other sources by specific reference. See Reference List for details.

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