Although the common fiddlehead has little to recommend it, I like this interesting wildflower, or noxious weed, depending on one’s point of view.
There are several species of fiddlenecks, all difficult to tell apart. Currently it appears as though many of these species are all given the scientific name, Amsinckia menziesii, with slightly different subspecies listed as varieties. Thus the pictured plant is known as Amsinckia menziesii var. intermedia. The colloquial names, common fiddleneck, coast fiddleneck or rancher’s fiddleneck, are much easier and less confusing to remember.
A native of California and Oregon, common fiddleneck has spread throughout the West, into most Eastern States and has also established itself globally. This weedy annual thrives in disturbed areas such as roadsides and overgrazed rangeland. Because it invades cultivated fields, fiddleneck is often considered a noxious weed.
I like how the small trumpet-shaped yellow-orange flowers occur along the upper edge of a coil-shaped (scorpoid) terminal flower cluster that resembles the head of a fiddle or a shepherd’s crook. The flowers unscroll and open sequentially with the youngest flowers at the tip. The five petals are fused into a narrow tube with five perpendicularly spreading lobes. The branched stem comes from a taproot. The alternate leaves are narrow and elongate. Both the stem and leaves are covered in coarse, stiff hairs which can cause skin irritation if they pierce the skin. Each flower produces four hard, black nutlets.
Fiddleneck contains alkaloids and high concentrations of nitrates. The hay has been shown to be poisonous to cattle. Indigenous peoples are reported to have used the seeds, shoots and leaves for food and medicinal purposes. I choose not to experiment with ingesting a plant that contains alkaloids and is toxic to livestock.
The fiddleneck genus, Amsinckia, was named in honor of Wilhelm Amsinck (1752-1831) who was a patron of the Hamburg Botanical Garden.
These fiddleneck plants were growing along Hat Creek (Shasta County CA).