A native of Asia (China, Russia), halogeton (Halogeton glomeratus) is now naturalized throughout the American West and is considered a noxious weed. I read a theory that postulated the Soviet Union dropped halogeton seeds from spy planes onto Western rangelands as a biological weapon during the Cold War. Most certainly untrue!! Most likely accidental seed contamination introduced this member of the Amaranth Family (Amaranthaceae) to North America.
An annual, halogeton prefers alkaline soils and a semi-arid environment. This halophile (salt loving) will grow in soils that are too alkaline for many other species. It can also tolerate cold winters. Although not particularly competitive, halogeton readily invades overgrazed or disturbed lands and prevents re-establishment of more desirable species.
Halogeton generally has about five main stems branching from a taproot. The stems are spreading at first then become erect. When young the plant appears blue-green and turns yellow to red as it matures. During drought the stems develop a strong reddish tint.
The leaves are small, fleshy and nearly tubular with a delicate, needle-like spine at the tip. The sessile (no stalk) leaves grow in bunches along the stem.
The small halogeton flowers are borne in the leaf axils and surround the plant stem. Greenish to cream colored, the flowers are either perfect (bisexual) or female. There are no petals and the five sepals are strongly membranous. The two types of flowers produce different types of seeds with different germination styles. The female flower seeds are formed early in the summer and are light brown or tan, are wingless and may remain dormant in the soil for ten years or more. The bisexual flowers are produced later in the season, are dark brown or black, have wings and germinate in the same cycle. The fruits, each holding a single seed, are ovoid, thin-walled utricles (small, bladdery, one-seeded).
Halogeton produces sodium oxalate, a toxic substance that is especially poisonous to sheep but will also affect cattle. Halogeton is always dangerous, growing more toxic as the growing season progresses. Peak toxicity occurs at maturity. Dried plants are also toxic. The plants will also break off at the base when dry and behave like tumbleweeds.
The genus name derives from the Greek words “hals/sea or salty” and “geiton/neighbor” and refers to halogeton’s habitat. The species name means “clustered” in Latin and describes the leaves and flowers. Saltover is another colloquial name for H glomeratus.
These halogeton specimens were photographed in September along the trail between the Hidden, Burnt and Picnic Caves east of Fallon NV.