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Viper's Grass

Scorzonera humilis

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Plant Profile

Flowering Months:
Asteraceae (Daisy)
Also in this family:
Alpine Blue Sow-thistle, Alpine Cotula, Alpine Fleabane, Alpine Saw-wort, Annual Ragweed, Annual Sunflower, Argentine Fleabane, Autumn Hawkbit, Autumn Oxeye, Beaked Hawksbeard, Beggarticks, Bilbao Fleabane, Black Knapweed, Black-eyed Susan, Blanketflower, Blue Fleabane, Blue Globe-thistle, Bristly Oxtongue, Broad-leaved Cudweed, Broad-leaved Ragwort, Brown Knapweed, Butterbur, Buttonweed, Cabbage Thistle, Canadian Fleabane, Canadian Goldenrod, Carline Thistle, Chalk Knapweed, Chamois Ragwort, Changing Michaelmas Daisy, Chicory, Chinese Mugwort, Chinese Ragwort, Coltsfoot, Common Blue Sow-thistle, Common Cat's-ear, Common Cudweed, Common Daisy, Common Dandelion, Common Fleabane, Common Goldenrod, Common Groundsel, Common Michaelmas Daisy, Common Mugwort, Common Ragwort, Common Wormwood, Coneflower, Confused Michaelmas Daisy, Corn Chamomile, Corn Marigold, Cornflower, Cotton Thistle, Cottonweed, Creeping Thistle, Daisy Bush, Dwarf Cudweed, Dwarf Thistle, Early Goldenrod, Eastern Groundsel, Eastern Leopardsbane, Elecampane, English Hawkweed, Fen Ragwort, Feverfew, Field Fleawort, Field Wormwood, Fox and Cubs, French Tarragon, Gallant Soldier, Garden Lettuce, Giant Butterbur, Glabrous-headed Hawkweed, Glandular Globe-thistle, Glaucous Michaelmas Daisy, Globe Artichoke, Globe-thistle, Goat's Beard, Golden Ragwort, Golden Samphire, Goldilocks Aster, Grass-leaved Goldenrod, Great Lettuce, Greater Burdock, Greater Knapweed, Grey-headed Hawkweed, Guernsey Fleabane, Hairless Blue Sow-thistle, Hairless Leptinella, Hairy Michaelmas Daisy, Harpur Crewe's Leopardsbane, Hawkweed Oxtongue, Heath Cudweed, Heath Groundsel, Hemp Agrimony, Highland Cudweed, Hoary Mugwort, Hoary Ragwort, Hybrid Knapweed, Intermediate Burdock, Irish Fleabane, Jersey Cudweed, Jerusalem Artichoke, Lance-leaved Hawkweed, Lavender-cotton, Leafless Hawksbeard, Least Lettuce, Leopardplant, Leopardsbane, Leptinella, Lesser Burdock, Lesser Hawkbit, Lesser Sunflower, London Bur-marigold, Magellan Ragwort, Marsh Cudweed, Marsh Hawksbeard, Marsh Ragwort, Marsh Sow-thistle, Marsh Thistle, Meadow Thistle, Melancholy Thistle, Mexican Fleabane, Milk Thistle, Mountain Everlasting, Mouse-ear Hawkweed, Musk Thistle, Narrow-leaved Cudweed, Narrow-leaved Hawkweed, Narrow-leaved Michaelmas Daisy, Narrow-leaved Ragwort, New England Hawkweed, New Zealand Holly, Nipplewort, Nodding Bur-marigold, Northern Hawksbeard, Norwegian Mugwort, Oxeye Daisy, Oxford Ragwort, Pearly Everlasting, Perennial Cornflower, Perennial Ragweed, Perennial Sow-thistle, Perennial Sunflower, Pineapple Mayweed, Plantain-leaved Leopardsbane, Ploughman's Spikenard, Plymouth Thistle, Pontic Blue Sow-thistle, Pot Marigold, Prickly Lettuce, Prickly Sow-thistle, Purple Coltsfoot, Rayed Tansy, Red Star Thistle, Red-seeded Dandelion, Red-tipped Cudweed, Robin's Plantain, Roman Chamomile, Rough Cocklebur, Rough Hawkbit, Rough Hawksbeard, Russian Lettuce, Safflower, Salsify, Saw-wort, Scented Mayweed, Scentless Mayweed, Sea Aster, Sea Mayweed, Sea Wormwood, Seaside Daisy, Shaggy Mouse-ear Hawkweed, Shaggy Soldier, Shasta Daisy, Shetland Mouse-ear Hawkweed, Shrub Ragwort, Sicilian Chamomile, Silver Ragwort, Slender Mugwort, Slender Thistle, Small Cudweed, Small Fleabane, Smooth Cat's-ear, Smooth Hawksbeard, Smooth Sow-thistle, Sneezeweed, Sneezewort, Spear Thistle, Spotted Cat's-ear, Spotted Hawkweed, Sticky Groundsel, Stinking Chamomile, Stinking Hawksbeard, Tall Fleabane, Tall Mouse-ear Hawkweed, Tansy, Thin-leaved Sunflower, Treasureflower, Trifid Bur-marigold, Tuberous Thistle, Tyneside Leopardplant, Wall Lettuce, Welsh Groundsel, Welted Thistle, White African Daisy, White Butterbur, White Buttons, Willdenow's Leopardsbane, Winter Heliotrope, Wood Burdock, Wood Ragwort, Woody Fleabane, Woolly Thistle, Yarrow, Yellow Chamomile, Yellow Fox and Cubs, Yellow Oxeye, Yellow Star Thistle, Yellow Thistle, York Groundsel
Life Cycle:
Maximum Size:
50 centimetres tall
Fens, grassland, meadows, roadsides, rocky places, sand dunes, seaside, woodland.

Yellow, many petals
The flowers are lemon yellow and dandelion-like. Its flowers are similar to Goat's Beard (Tragopogon pratensis) but the bracts are short and pale green which helps to distinguish it. 5 stamens per flower.
A brown, round, shiny, ridged fruit (achene), up to 1cm in length. There is a tuft of feathery hairs at the end. Not beaked.
Not a species of grass, despite its name. This is a member of the daisy family and is a perennial plant that is rare in Britain. It has lance-shaped, tapering leaves with prominent parallel veins (plantain-like in appearance). Most of the leaves are basal leaves but there are a few stem leaves that alternate up the stem. The leaves are untoothed. This grass is restricted to meadows in Dorset and South Wales.
Other Names:
Black Salsify.
Frequency (UK):
Rarely seen  

Similar Species

Other Information


Scorzonera humilis, also known as black salsify, or viper's grass, is a perennial herbaceous plant in the sunflower family (Asteraceae). It is native to central and southern Europe and it's commonly found in dry and rocky habitats, such as grassland, steppes, and dunes. It forms rosettes of linear leaves and can grow to a height of 20-60 cm. The flowers are yellow, and they form a long spike-like inflorescence in late summer to fall.

S. humilis is considered a medicinal plant in some cultures, the root of the plant is edible, and it can be used as a substitute for oyster and can be used in soups and stews. It has a long history of use in traditional medicine, particularly for treating skin conditions such as eczema and other inflammatory skin conditions. It is also suitable for ornamental gardening, particularly in dryland landscaping, as it is drought-tolerant and can tolerate poor soils and full sun. It can also be used in restoration of dryland and steppe habitats. However, in some regions it can be considered invasive, and it's important to manage its spread in those areas.


Scorzonera humilis, also known as Viper's Grass, is a perennial plant belonging to the family Asteraceae. It is native to the Mediterranean region, specifically the eastern parts of Spain and the Balearic Islands, as well as parts of North Africa. The plant is often found in dry, rocky habitats, such as hillsides and scrublands, and it has a striking appearance with its elongated stem and bright yellow flowers.

The plant's common name, Viper's Grass, is believed to have been given because of its long, slender stem that resembles a viper's tongue. The stem grows up to 60cm tall and is covered in small, pointed leaves. At the top of the stem, the plant produces a cluster of bright yellow flowers that bloom in the spring and summer months. The flowers are daisy-like with a dark center and yellow petals that radiate outwards.

In addition to its striking appearance, Scorzonera humilis has a rich cultural history. The plant has been used for medicinal purposes for centuries, with the ancient Greeks and Romans using it to treat a variety of ailments, including liver and stomach problems. The plant has also been used as a food source, with the young leaves being eaten raw or cooked and the root being boiled or roasted and served as a vegetable.

Today, Scorzonera humilis is still used in traditional medicine and is believed to have a number of health benefits. It is said to aid digestion, improve liver function, and boost the immune system. The plant is also being studied for its potential anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties.

Despite its many uses and benefits, Scorzonera humilis is not a widely cultivated plant. It can be difficult to grow and requires well-drained soil and plenty of sunlight. However, for those who are able to grow it successfully, the plant offers not only beauty but also a range of health benefits.

Scorzonera humilis, or Viper's Grass, is a unique and beautiful plant with a rich cultural history and a range of potential health benefits. Although it is not widely cultivated, those who are able to grow it can enjoy not only its striking appearance but also its many uses in traditional medicine and as a food source. If you happen to come across this plant in the wild or in a garden, take a moment to appreciate its beauty and consider the many ways it has been used and valued throughout history.

Scorzonera humilis is also known for its ability to attract beneficial insects, such as bees and butterflies, to gardens and natural habitats. Its bright yellow flowers are a source of nectar and pollen, making it an important plant for pollinator conservation.

In addition to its medicinal and culinary uses, Scorzonera humilis has been used for dyeing textiles. The roots of the plant can be used to create a range of yellow and brown dyes that have been used for centuries.

While Scorzonera humilis is not considered a threatened species, it is facing habitat loss due to urbanization and agricultural development. Conservation efforts are underway to protect and preserve natural populations of the plant, as well as to promote its cultivation for its many benefits.

Scorzonera humilis is a fascinating plant with a rich history and a range of uses and benefits. Its striking appearance, medicinal properties, and ability to attract beneficial insects make it a valuable addition to any garden or natural habitat. As we continue to learn more about this unique plant, we may discover even more ways in which it can be used and appreciated.

One interesting aspect of Scorzonera humilis is its adaptability to harsh growing conditions. The plant is able to grow in rocky, dry soils and can withstand periods of drought, making it a valuable resource for regions with limited water resources. Its deep taproot allows it to access water and nutrients from deep in the soil, making it a useful plant for erosion control.

Scorzonera humilis is also known for its potential as a biocontrol agent. Studies have shown that extracts from the plant have insecticidal and fungicidal properties, making it a potential alternative to synthetic pesticides. This could have significant benefits for both human health and the environment, as synthetic pesticides have been linked to a range of health and environmental problems.

Furthermore, Scorzonera humilis has been used in traditional medicine as a natural remedy for coughs and other respiratory ailments. The plant contains compounds that have been shown to have expectorant and bronchodilator effects, making it a promising natural treatment for respiratory conditions.

Overall, Scorzonera humilis is a fascinating plant with a range of uses and benefits. From its striking appearance to its adaptability to harsh growing conditions, the plant has much to offer. As we continue to study and appreciate this unique species, we may discover even more ways in which it can be used and valued.

Distribution Map

Reproduced by kind permission of the BSBI.

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