Desert madwort (Alussum desertorum) is a member of the mustard family native to Eurasia. Introduced into North America, desert madwort naturalized and is now found on dry open ground, gravelly sites and disturbed areas throughout the western and central portion of the continent. Because desert madwort is a prolific plant that invades pastures and fields it is considered a noxious weed by some.
Growing 3 to 10 inches in height, desert madwort is a spreading to erect annual. The stems branch at the plant base and are topped by a many-flowered raceme (unbranched inflorescence with stalked flowers that bloom from the bottom up). The narrow, alternate leaves are strap-like and lack petioles (stalks). Both the leaves and stems are covered in tiny star-shaped hairs. The inflorescence spreads and elongates as the flowers mature. The small desert madwort flowers are yellow with four petals, four sepals and six stamens. Desert madwort fruits are round pods containing two seeds. The seed pods are flattened around the edge (wings) and bulge in the center. An embryonic root is present in the seed.
Desert madwort closely resembles yellow alyssum (Alyssum alyssoides). One primary characteristic that separates these two “cousins” is the seed pod. Both seed pods look similar, however desert madwort pods are glabrous (no hairs) while yellow alyssum pods are hairy. I will show pictures of yellow alyssum seed pods in my next post.
Although I know of no specific medicinal or culinary uses for desert madwort, members of the Alyssum genus were said to cure rabies, as evidenced in the derivation of Alyssum – from the Greek, “a” means “without” and “lyssa” is “madness”.
Also commonly known as dwarf alyssum and desert alyssum, these desert madwort plants were growing in our north pasture (Modoc County CA).