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Hawkweed Oxtongue

Picris hieracioides

  • Written also: Hawkweed Ox-tongue
  • Family: Daisy Family – Compositae, subfamily Cichorioideae (formerly Chicory Family – Cichoriaceae)
  • Growing form: Biennial or sometimes short-lived perennial.
  • Height: 50–80 cm (20–32 in.). Stem many-branched from top, coarsely hairy, bluish grey, sometimes purple-striped.
  • Flower: Flowers grouped into a capitulum 2.5–3 cm (1.2–1.6 in.) across. Corolla golden yellow (outer surface of ray-florets often purple-striped), often tinged with purple, strap-shaped, 5-toothed tip. Stamens 5. Gynoecium composed of 2 fused carpels. Involucral bracts 1 row, different sizes, protruding, narrowly lanceolate, stiff-haired. Outer bracts narrow, somewhat spreading. Capitula borne in a corymbose cluster.
  • Leaves: Alternate, lowest stalked, upper amplexicaul. Blade lanceolate–elliptic, with entire–toothed–winding margin; with wavy margin.
  • Fruit: Achene, tipped with feathery hairs.
  • Habitat: Meadow banks, dry meadows, fallow fields, hedgerows, parks, railway embankments, harbours, wasteland.
  • Flowering time: July–August.

Hawkweed oxtongue’s name already reveals a useful identifying mark: it bears a striking resemblance to certain hawkweeds, which its official name hieracioides refers to. On hawkweeds the involucral bracts, which protect the capitulum, overlap in rows, while on oxtongues the proper involucral bracts are in a single row above a less organized row of shorter involucral bracts. As the plant’s genus name Picris (means bitter in Greek) suggests, its root tastes very bitter. A completely unique feature of Finland’s capitulum-flowered plants are the rough hairs on their stems, most of which are tipped with double hooks like little anchors. How amplexicaul the upper stem leaves are is also a good marker.

Hawkweed oxtongue is a textbook example of a plant which has deeply exploited slash-and-burn culture. Eastern Finland’s extensive slash-and-burn culture has left the legacy of hawkweed oxtongue, which is now an established alien. It has spread west from its area of distribution at least partly with slash-and-burn agriculture, but abruptly becomes very rare outside its heartland. The westernmost established stands are in the Lohja-Vihti area in southern Finland and Vammala. There are casual stands on the Gulf of Bothnia. Hawkweed oxtongue has become rarer in recent decades in many of its established habitats, although it is not yet endangered. As slash-and-burn ditches close over however, hawkweed oxtongue’s time is drawing to a close. It is able to persevere in thickets and even in the shade of young forests, but only as a pitiful leaf rosette – it is unable to flower or produce seeds. Hawkweed oxtongue’s last refuges are light-filled roadside edges and embankments.

Other species from the same family

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