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Tragopogon porrifolius – Salsify

Salsify, Tragopogon porrifolius, is a biennial grown for the edible roots. It takes three to four months for it to reach the stage where you can harvest. Salsify is a beautiful plant for the garden, although it can be a challenge to grow. The flowers are dusky purple with golden-yellow stamens.

Salsify in the garden.

The roots are said by some to taste like oysters, hence the name ‘oyster plant’. Barbara Damrosch of the Washington Post pretty strongly disagrees with oyster taste reputation, likening the actual taste instead to artichoke hearts. Ms. Damrosh’s entire article on the culinary aspect of salsify is highly recommended.

Tragopogon porrifolius is native to Europe and has been cultivated there for centuries (Pliny the Elder liked it). It has naturalized in most of the continental United States, but has not found its way to the wild in the hotter parts of the country. It does not fare well in places with brutally hot summers.

Growing Salsify

You’ll need to plant Tragopogon porrifolius as seed. It is a root vegetable and those roots can go deep…meaning salsify does not transplant well at all. As an aside, when harvesting be sure to dig down far enough to get the entire root without breakage – it will store longer undamaged.

Some sources recommend planting after soil reaches 50 degrees F. in spring. I know very few people who carry a thermometer around to test soil temperatures (but I do know a few). If you typically don’t get any snow, plant Tragopogon porrifolius in fall two weeks before your typical last frost. Plant it a half-inch deep.

Salsify likes sun but not hot weather. Spring in the south is its time. If you have an area that gets sun in spring and then mid-late afternoon shade once warmer weather comes, consider such a spot a likely place for salsify. Areas adjacent to hardwoods that leaf out late (here’s looking at you Cornus kousa) could work (adjacent…not underneath).

The flower buds are enormous.

Keep the soil evenly moist. Allowing the soil you grow salsify in to alternate between dry and wet can lead to split roots. On the plus side, it is not a heavy feeder, so keep the fertilizer to a minimum, maybe some compost in the beginning. For some superb advice on growing salsify try over here.

Salsify has enormous flower buds. It’s a little weird but charming. The flowers are beautiful, but from looking at those huge flower buds I would expect the flowers to be monstrous in size. They are not huge. Maybe 3″ across.

It is both slow to germinate (three weeks) and a slow grower. One final piece of bad news: You may have to weed the salsify patch, in the beginning, to help it keep up.

1796. Jacob & Johann Sturm.
1796. Jacob & Johann Sturm.