salsify, common name for a tall, narrow-leaved biennial ( Tragopogon porrifolius ) of the family Asteraceae (aster family), native to S Europe but now naturalized and sometimes growing as a weed in North America. Known also as purple goatsbeard, oyster plant, and vegetable oyster, it is widely cultivated for its long edible root, oysterlike in flavor. The roots may be left in the ground through winter and dug as needed. The related meadow salsify or yellow goatsbeard ( T. pratensis ) is sometimes called John-go-to-bed-at-noon because the flower heads of salsifies close at midday. It is similar to the common salsify but has a large, flat head of yellow (rather than purple) flowers; it is seldom cultivated. The common name goatsbeard—a translation of the Greek generic name Tragopogon —refers to the long, feathery, dandelionlike hairs on the seeds. Among other plants with similar names are an ornamental Eurasian perennial, Aruncus sylvester, called goatsbeard but related to the spiraea and usually cultivated under that name, and the black salsify ( Scorzonera hispanica ), a composite with an edible root like that of the common salsify. Salsify is classified in the division Magnoliophyta, class Magnoliopsida, order Asterales, family Asteraceae.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.