Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center
Few North Dakotans have not seen curlycup gumweed, for it is abundant along roadsides and in pastures throughout the state. This native of the interior grasslands, that stretch from Minnesota to Montana south to Texas, at elevations up to 5,500 ft., has spread eastward and westward with the land disturbances wrought by European man.
Curlycup gumweed is a biennial that blooms and dies during its second growing season. Mature plants are about a foot tall, with oblong leaves that are sharply toothed. The leaves turn at right angles to the sun; species with this ability are called compass-plants. The plant is highly variable in growth form; stems may be simple with a few flower heads at the tip or much branched with up to a hundred flower heads on the upper third of the plant. Flower heads are yellow and about an inch wide. Fruits are tiny achenes equipped with 2-8 awns. The most characteristic feature is the curly involucre (group of scale-like leaves around the flower head) which exudes copious amounts of sticky resin.
Cattlemen consider curlycup gumweed noxious because it increases greatly in abundance on native pastures that are heavily grazed; the plant also invades seeded pastures. Resin from the plant has a long history of use in home remedies as a sedative and expectorant and for treatment of burns, ivy poisoning and whooping cough.
Curlycup gumweed is a member of the sunflower family (Asteraceae) which is the largest plant family in most temperate areas. Aster means "star" in Greek concerning the radiate arrangement of flowers in the heads. The genus was dedicated to Professor David Grindel (1776-1836), a Russian botanist. The species name squarrosa means "having recurved tips" in botanical Latin, in reference to the tiny modified leaves that form the involucre. Curlycup gumweed was first described for science by the German botanist Frederick Pursh in the early 1800's.