Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center
A plant nearly as drab as its name, annual povertyweed has been collected in most North Dakota counties. Elsewhere, the plant ranges from Manitoba to British Columbia south to Missouri, Texas, and California at elevations below 10,000 ft.
These slightly succulent plants branch freely from the base and usually are about a foot tall. Stems can be smooth or mealy. The fleshy leaves alternate on the stem. Lower leaves are long, whereas the upper leaves are much smaller. Leaves have a pair of lobes near the middle and may have a few teeth at the tips. The tiny, often reddish flowers form dense clusters in the upper leaf axils. Tiny black seeds have a pitted covering.
Look for annual povertyweed from May to August on bare, alkaline spots in native prairie. Grazing by cattle seems to have little effect on the abundance of this plant. Amerindians of Arizona ate the washed roots of annual povertyweed and used the seeds in pinole.
Annual povertyweed belongs to the goosefoot family (Chenopodiaceae), named from the Greek chen, "a goose" and pous "foot," in allusion to the shape of the leaves of many members of this family. The family contains about 1200 species worldwide, including beet, Swiss chard, and spinach. There are only about six species of Monolepis worldwide. The generic name is derived from the Greek monos, "one" and lepis, "scale," alluding to the single sepal found on the flowers of members of this genus. The specific name was dedicated to the plants' original describer and early visitor to North Dakota, Thomas Nuttall (1786-1859). The plant was finally placed into its current taxonomic position in 1891 by Edward Greene (1843-1915). He was the first professor of botany at the University of California.