Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center
Readers touring the badlands of western North Dakota during late June or early July may be delighted to see the stately prince's plume in full flower. The plant occurs from northern Montana to Kansas and California.
Prince's plume is a large perennial sometimes over 3 feet tall. Older plants may be woody at the base. The cleft leaves are smooth and waxy. The plant's most striking feature is the terminal cluster of hundreds of bright yellow flowers arranged on a stalk a foot or more long. Slender seedpods about two inches long form progressively as the flowers mature from the bottom of the stalk upwards.
These plants thrive under light grazing by cattle. Prince's plume is one of the few members of the mustard family (Brassicaceae) known to accumulate and indicate the presence of selenium, a poisonous element present in many western soils.
The family gets its name from brassica, the Latin name of the cabbage. Many of the approximately 2500 species in this family have been developed into ornamentals, and foods such as cauliflower, cress, radish, and rutabaga. The generic name was dedicated to Lord Edward Stanley, a l9th century English ornithologist. The specific epithet pinnata refers to the leaves, which are pinnate (cleft to the midrib) to form leaflets. Prince's plume was described for science by the German botanist Frederick Pursh (1774-1829) who first published on the many new plants collected by Lewis and Clark.