Gypsy flower, rats and mice, dog bur, beggers lice
Houndstongue is a biennial forb that forms a deep tap root and basal rosette the first year. It forms a flowering stem in its second year. The rosette leaves are broad, oblong, petioled and resemble a dogs tongue in shape. Leaves are alternate, up to one foot in length and up to three inches wide. They have smooth margins and are soft and velvety to touch. In the second year, stems form and often branch at the top of the plant. Plants can grow up to four feet in height. Flowers are five petaled, reddish-purple in color and produce four triangular, rounded seeds. They typically bloom in June and July. Seeds are small brown nutlets about 1/3 inch in length that easily attach to animals, vehicles, and humans. The entire plant has soft white hairs on it. The single tap root of houndstongue is thick, black and woody. Houndstoungue reproduces from seed only and each plant can produce up to 2,000 seeds. The plant dies after its second year.
The soft white hairs covering the plant, the basal leaves that resemble a hounds tongue, and the little brown burrs that stick to everything.
Houndstongue prefers well drained, relatively sandy and gravelly soils. It can also be found in shady areas and especially under the canopy of forests and wetter grasslands. It can be found in pastures and meadows, along roadsides and in disturbed sites.
Currently found in the following counties:
Beaverhead, Big Horn, Broadwater, Carbon, Carter, Cascade, Chouteau, Custer, Daniels, Dawson, Deer Lodge, Fallon, Flathead, Gallatin, Glacier, Granite, Hill, Jefferson, Judith Basin, Lake, Lewis & Clark, Liberty, Lincoln, Madison, McCone, Meagher, Mineral, Missoula, Park, Petroleum, Powell, Prairie, Ravalli, Richland, Rosebud, Sanders, Sheridan, Silver Bow, Stillwater, Teton, Treasure, Valley, Wheatland, Yellowstone.
Houndstongue carries an alkaloid poison that can kill livestock through loss of production of liver cells. Animals won’t normally graze on it, but if cured in hay, it will remain toxic. Sheep are more resistant to this plant than cattle and horses. Horses are especially susceptible and symptoms of houndstongue ingestion include loss of weight, diarrhea, convulsions and even coma. As with many invaders, houndstongue does have medicinal properties as well and has been used as a remedy to acne, corn callus, eczema, and as a fever remedy.
Commonly Confused Plants
- Exotics: Rosettes may resemble burdock.
- Natives: If not flowering, could be mistaken for members of the Hackelia or Lappula genus (stickseeds).
Visit our library for additional articles on houndstongue.
Photo Credits: Nancy Chow; Matt Lavin; Photo by Richard Old, www.xidservices.com