Urospermum picroides is an interesting but little talked-about flowering plant. Commonly referred to as the prickly golden fleece in English, these wildflowers belong to the Asteraceae (aster) family of plants, many of which are taprooted.
The aster family counts over 32,000 unique species of plants, divided over nearly 2,000 different genera, so the prickly golden fleece is only distantly related to plants such as chicory, cardoon, camomile, dandelion, edelweiss, and many other much more famous flowering plants.
If you have never heard of the Urospermum genus before, you are by no means alone — this tiny genus only contains two known species. One of them is the prickly golden fleece (Urospermum picroides), while the other, Urospermum dalechampii, goes by the common name “smooth golden fleece”.
The prickly golden fleece, which is native to much of southern Europe, including Spain, France, Italy, Greece, Croatia, and Slovenia, where it has historically been used for medicinal purposes, and where it often can be seen growing in untilled farmland or next to parking lots.
Despite the fact that this weedy plant isn’t uncommon, the prickly golden fleece has not been of much interest at all to gardeners looking to cultivate pretty ornamental, or edible, plants.
If you are interested in Urospermum picroides, that is likely for one of three reasons. You may have seen the prickly golden fleece growing in the wild, in southern Europe, and are now wondering if you can grow it in your garden, too.
You may have seen it in an encyclopedia about edible wildflowers, or you could be interested in herbal medicine.
If you are interested in the prickly golden fleece, you’re an unofficial member of an extremely small club — but, as researchers are exploring potential new food sources in a world with a changing climate, that may not be true for very long; scientists are already beginning to explore Urospermum picroides as a potential new vegetable.
About Prickly Golden Fleece
- The prickly golden fleece (Urospermum picroides) is a herbaceous taprooted annual with an erect but slightly unruly growth habit.
- These charming flowering plants are native to much of southern Europe, mostly countries that are considered to fall into the Mediterranean region. The prickly golden fleece has also successfully been introduced to other regions, however, and is currently distributed throughout North America, Central and South America, southern Africa, and Urospermum picroides can even be found in Australia.
- Urospermum picroides has traditionally been used in folk medicine in countries such as Greece and France — and its potential uses include those as a remedy for digestive issues, an anti-inflammatory medicine that can be applied topically, and as a natural diuretic to help with urinary tract issues. Many parts of the plant, including the leaves, flowers, flower buds, and stems can be used as medicine, and in the regions where the prickly golden fleece has historically been put to use in this way, it is most common to make a tea from various parts of this plant.
- Because all parts of the prickly golden fleece are edible, this plant has also recently started to gain traction as a useful source of nutrition. The prickly golden fleece’s leaves can, for example, be eaten raw and incorporated into salads. They can also be fried or be added to baked goods, like spinach. The closed flower buds of the Urospermum picroides can be pickled and used instead of capers.
- These plants have a slightly bitter taste, with the young leaves having the mildest flavor. The flavor can be compared to that of dandelions, which are indeed related to prickly golden fleece and are also edible. They are rich in vitamins (including vitamin C), minerals (including iron), and even omega 3 fatty acids.
- Both species from the Urospermum genus, commonly referred to as the prickly golden fleece and the smooth golden fleece (Urospermum picroides and Urospermum dalechampii, respectively), grow in the wild, where they are typically considered weeds and not given much thought. They have a history as a food source during periods of war or famine, however. Because of this, researchers who have recently started thinking about ways to domesticate and cultivate these species have been investigating how golden fleece plants can be grown most efficiently. While this research remains in its infancy, results have been rather promising and if you add the prickly golden fleece to your garden now, you may be a pioneer — in the future, you may even see this plant in organic stores or farmer’s markets, sold as a salad vegetable.
Prickly Golden Fleece Features: An Overview
- Urospermum picroides is a herbaceous wildflower that produces pretty yellow radial flowers. These single-stemmed plants naturally grow as annuals and will easily reseed themselves for an abundant upcoming growing season, as their seeds are carried by the wind.
- In their native growing zones in southern Europe, the prickly golden fleece typically reaches a height of 11 to 20 inches (30 to 50 centimeters) although some specimens can be even taller, and their slender stalks spread quite widely, too.
- The prickly golden fleece has, as its name suggests, golden yellow radial flowers that tend to grow in large clusters. These flowers appear in spring and can last through early summer. Although they bear a passing resemblance to the common dandelion (Taraxacum officinale), the stems of the prickly golden fleece branch into multiple stalks and many flowers can grow on the same plant.
- Urospermum picroides has thick and coarse lobed compound leaves, which are irregularly shaped and keep transforming as the plant matures. The young leaves have a fresh green color and can be used in salads. while the mature leaves are thicker. These can have deep burgundy veins in the center.
- As the name prickly golden fleece would already suggest, the stems, foliage, and calyx of the plant are covered in “prickles”, or coarse hairs. This is not the case with young leaves, and cooking the plants will render them smooth, if you are planning to eat the prickly golden fleece.
- These plants have slender green stems, which can also take on a crimson or burgundy shape as the plants mature.
- The fruits of the prickly golden fleece are achenes, which like the dandelion produce fluffy “parachutes” that appear during the early to late summer, after which the wind easily disperses them, causing the plant to spread.
- Prickly golden fleece flowers also attract bees, butterflies, and other pollinators.
- Urospermum picroides is an annual, but this plant spread rather quickly and can take over any space where it is allowed to grow unhindered. For this reason, the plant is often considered to be a weed. Currently, not many gardeners actively choose to grow Urospermum picroides in their gardens. Choose the prickly golden fleece if you are interested in growing edible wildflowers, which can be very nutritious, if you would like a low-maintenance garden or a native garden, or if you are hoping to attract butterflies and other pollinators.
Growing Prickly Golden Fleece (Urospermum Picroides)
Urospermum picroides is a hardy and weedy plant. Although it is native to southern Europe, the prickly golden fleece has also been introduced to regions that include North America and Australia, where it can also grow successfully.
It is no surprise, then, that the prickly golden fleece is adapted to a wide variety of conditions. These plants thrive in temperature conditions ranging from 39 to 100 °F (4 to 38 °C). They can be grown in full sun as well as partial shade.
In the wild, the prickly golden fleece can often be seen growing in poor soils of many types, and these plants do not seem to be picky. They can tolerate periods of drought as well as heavy showers, but do not like waterlogged or perpetually soggy soil.
Should you be interested in growing Urospermum picroides as an edible wildflower, you can harvest any part you find attractive. The prickly golden fleece does not otherwise require any pruning, nor will you need to feed this plant fertilizer for it to succeed.
Watering Prickly Golden Fleece
The prickly golden fleece plant likes to be placed in dry to moderately moist conditions. Like other plants, it may have the potential of developing root rot if placed in perpetually soggy soil.
In its native growing zones, it is not necessary to offer supplemental watering to the Urospermum picroides at all if you are simply aiming for the plant’s survival; when grown elsewhere or specifically to maximize its harvest, it is best to offer your prickly golden fleece regular watering.
Young prickly golden fleece plants, which have not yet matured, will need a lot more water than fully grown ones. Plenty of water helps the prickly golden fleece grow, and you’ll need to be watering a new plant at least once a week to support its growth, especially if you are planning to harvest the buds and leaves to eat.
It’s best to water prickly golden fleece plants in the early morning, which gives them time to soak up the water for the entire day.
Propagating Prickly Golden Fleece
Would you like to propagate your prickly golden fleece, or perhaps even gift some to your friends? Luckily for you, prickly golden fleece are among some of the easiest plants to propagate! The only reliable way to propagate your prickly golden fleece is through their many seeds.
Prickly golden fleece will, in fact, reseed itself, without any intervention on your part — their “parachutes” will be carried off far and wide by the wind.
This will give you plenty of prickly golden fleece in your garden! If you want to plant your prickly golden fleece yourself, by collecting the seeds from the wild, you’ll have to go through a different process.
The steps you need to take to propagate a prickly golden fleece from seed are:
- Prickly golden fleece seeds will become ready to be picked between June and July. Collect as many seeds as possible from mature golden fleece plants during this time, before they detach and fly off.
- These seeds can be sown in early spring and early fall, and you can simply press them into the soil very gently. Unlike some other seeds, when you plant prickly golden fleece you don’t want to completely bury the seeds. In fact, the seeds of the prickly golden fleece plant need light to germinate, and should, therfore, only be slightly pushed into the soil.
- If you want to make the germination process faster, you could try to cold stratifying your prickly golden fleece seeds, doing this about a week before you plan to plant them. Cold stratifying your seeds is basically just storing the seeds in your refrigerator for a while.
- Once you have planted your prickly golden fleece seeds, you should consistently keep them moist. This will help with germination.
After a while, if you are lucky, you should notice your prickly golden fleece start taking root and growing! Continue to keep it moist, and keep waiting for the beautiful yellow flowers — and of course, tasty salad greens.
The prickly golden fleece, or Urospermum picroides, is one of those lovely wildflowers you have likely passed by many times — briefly enjoying them as part of the landscape, but not really giving them that much thought. It turns out that these wonderful weeds aren’t just charming, but also edible (and really quite tasty). In addition, Urospermum picroides has historically been used as a herbal remedy.
Only plant the prickly golden fleece in your garden if you are sure that you want it there, because these flowering plants will spread quickly and can impede the growth of other plants. They are best suited for people who are specifically hoping to create edible gardens, as well as for those in southern Europe who love the idea of making a native garden.