- Name also: Goat’s Beard, Jack-go-to-bed-at-noon, Showy Goat’s-beard, Shepherd’s clock, Meadow Salsify, Oyster Plant
- Family: Daisy Family – Compositae, subfamily Cichorioideae (formerly Chicory Family – Cichoriaceae)
- Growing form: Biennial herb. Taproot strong.
- Height: 30–70 cm (12–28 in.). Stem unbranched or sparsely erect-branched, uniformly thick, many-leaved, glabrous, bluish green.
- Flower: Single flower-like capitula 3–5 cm (1.2–2 in.) broad, surrounded by involucral bracts. Capitulum flowers yellow (outermost often with grey or red streaks), tongue-like, tip 5-toothed. Stamens 5. Gynoecium composed of 2 fused carpels. Involucral bracts 1 row (approx. 8), equal length, with white edges. Capitula solitary terminating stem and branches, opening only in mornings.
- Leaves: Alternate, stalkless, amplexicaul. Blade linear, broad-based, with tapered tip, with entire margins, grooved, parallel-veined.
- Fruit: Elliptic, 15–20 mm (0.6–0.8 in.) long ribbed achene, crowned with feathery hairs on end of stems.
- Habitat: Railway embankments, roadsides, commons, forest margins, field margins, wasteland, around manor houses, churches and castles.
- Flowering time: June–July.
Goat’s-beard’s narrow and parallel-veined leaves disguise it well among grasses that grow on banks. It stands out a mile when it flowers, but it can still elude sleepy-headed botanists because it only blooms in the early hours of the morning: at midday it closes up again and merges back into the background. In the lightest part of the summer the capitula can close up again as early as soon after 10 am. When the flowers are open they are pollinated by butterflies and flower-flies, but they also self-pollinate.
The Swedish botanist and father of the modern Swedish taxonomic system Carl von Linné already observed in the 18th century that every plant has a very exact daily rhythm. He outlined plans for a circular flower clock (Horologium plantarum), in which the opening and closing of flowers in the bed would give a rough idea of the time. This was never realized, but flower clocks have since been planted in different parts of the world. The exact flowering time is dependent on the daylight and the locality, so regional plants work best. A flower clock can act as a barometer too: goat’s-beard will immediately close up no matter what time of day it is if rain is approaching.
Goat’s-beard’s achenes are noticeably large, but so are their flying hairs, so they can carry the seeds long distances through the air. Air currents can give them an extra boost, and their oily surface helps them travel further. Goats-beard arrived in Finland with people and has been spread on purpose because the root contains a lot of latex and is delicious when cooked. It was also used as a coffee substitute.
In Finland goat’s-beard is only common in the south: it becomes rarer in central Finland and grows only casually in the north. Goat’s-beard has several subspecies; ssp. pratensis is most common, ssp. orientalis and ssp. minor are occasional. The latter one can be identified by its smaller size and also by its involucral bracts which are clearly longer than the ray-florets.