Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center
Although broom snakeweed can be found on native pastures throughout all but extreme eastern North Dakota, the plant reaches its best development on dry soils in the western half of the state. The species occurs from Washington to North Dakota and southward to Mexico, at elevations up to 10,000 ft.
Broom snakeweed stands about six to ten inches tall in our area. The fan or broom-like shape of the plant makes it easy to recognize in the field. Dozens of tiny yellow flower heads, each containing only a few flowers, are clustered on branches at the tips of the twenty to thirty stems. All the stems rise from a single taproot. Leaves are very narrow, and rough like fine sandpaper. Fruits are achenes equipped with 8-10 scales.
This plant is unpalatable to livestock and may increase greatly under long-term overgrazing, especially farther west where the species is much more common and widespread in distribution. In these areas, the plant grows much larger, and bundles of stems were used as brooms by several tribes of native Americans.
This species is a member of the large sunflower family (Asteraceae). Aster means "star" in Greek, in reference to the radiate arrangement of flowers in the heads. Botanist Mariano Lagasca dedicated the genus in 1816 to Pedro Gutierrez, correspondent of the botanical garden of Madrid, Spain. When German botanist Frederick Pursh described broom snakeweed for science in the early 1800's, he chose the specific name sarothrae because the plant reminded him of a plant with the specific name sarothra. Both words stem from the Greek sarotron, "a broom."