Rush Skeletonweed is a tap-rooted perennial that can grow up to four feet in height, however in Montana, tends to be smaller in stature. The rosette of rush skeletonweed resembles a dandelion rosette in the sharp, deeply toothed basal leaves. The lower stem of the plant is covered with coarse brown hairs. The stems and leaves exude a milky latex. Leaves are not easily seen, giving the plant a skeletal appearance. When the plant does flower, it produces a yellow flower about ¾ inches in diameter. Flowers are scattered on stems and branch tips and may appear by themselves or in clusters of two to five. Blooming occurs from mid- summer to fall. A mature plant can produce up to 20,000 seeds. When the plant does go to seed, the seeds are light brown to black, ribbed, and have white-ish bristles at one end that aid the seed in being dispersed by the wind. Roots are narrow and deep, sometimes penetrating the ground up to two to three feet. Roots not only run vertical, but can run lateral near the surface.
Key features include the downward bent, reddish, brown coarse hairs on the lower four to six inches of the stem, and of course, the skeletal look of the plant due to the lack of leaves on the upper part of the plant.
Rush Skeletonweed generally inhabits well-drained, light-textured soils. It can tolerate extended periods of drought and occupies disturbed habitats such as overgrazed rangeland, waste places, logging, farming, and road construction. Also be on the lookout around gopher mounds or around badger holes, as the plant tends to like those areas as well.
Currently found in the following counties:
Beaverhead, Lake, Lincoln, Missoula, Ravalli, Sanders
Rush skeletonweed reproduces only through clones produced from root buds and asexually by seed. The native skeletonweed in Montana produces a pink flower.
Commonly Confused Plants:
Lygodesmia juncea (skeletonweed) has pink (occasionally white) flowers
Photo Credits: Joseph M. DiTomaso, University of California - Davis, Bugwood.org; Dan Williams