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Photo of bitterweed plant, side view, showing very narrow leaves and branching.

Bitterweed (Bitter Sneezeweed; Yellow Dog-Fennel)

Bitterweed is our only sneezeweed with such very narrow leaves. Note also the many branches that form at the top part of the plant. Unlike our other sneezeweeds, this one lacks winged stems; it only has fine, rounded, lengthwise ridges. Also unlike our other sneezeweeds, it is an annual plant, not perennial, and it is not native to Missouri.

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Photo of young bitterweed plant, showing basal whorl of dandelion-like leaves.

Bitterweed (Bitter Sneezeweed; Yellow Dog-Fennel)

The basal leaves of bitterweed look something like dandelion leaves. They usually wither away by flowering time. If you look closely or use a hand lens, you can see tiny yellow glands dotting the leaf tissues.

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Photo of field dominated by blooming bitterweed, with cattle trying to graze it.

Bitterweed (Bitter Sneezeweed; Yellow Dog-Fennel)

Bitterweed, and other sneezeweeds, are called “increasers” in pastures. This means that when a field is overgrazed, these plants tend to increase, and maybe even take over the whole field, over time. In this case, bitter, toxic chemicals in the plant cause cattle to avoid eating them and instead to eat nearly any other plant within reach.

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Photo of blooming bitterweed plant shown from top.

Bitterweed (Bitter Sneezeweed; Yellow Dog-Fennel)

The weediest sneezeweed in Missouri, bitterweed arrived here in the late 1800s from its home range in Texas and Louisiana. Like other sneezeweeds, it has domed disks and yellow fan-shaped, notched ray florets. Unlike them, the leaves are narrowly linear.

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Photo of bitterweed flowerheads.

Bitterweed (Bitter Sneezeweed; Yellow Dog-Fennel)

Once you learn to identify sneezeweeds in general, with their distinctive dome-shaped disks and fan-shaped ray flowers, use other characteristics to determine species. Here, the fewer (5–10) ray flowers and narrowly linear leaves separate bitterweed from our other common all-yellow sneezeweed, autumn sneezeweed.

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