Houndstongue, also known as gypsyflower, is a biennial growing 1 to 4 feet tall and reproducing by seed. Leaves are alternate, 1 to 12 inches long, 1 to 3 inches wide, rough, hairy, and lacking teeth or lobes. Flowers are reddish-purple and terminal. Houndstongue forms a rosette the first year, and sends up a flowering stalk the second year. Thick, black, hound's branching tap roots can grow to depths of more than 3 feet in the first year. The leaves are rough and resemble a hound's tongue. The fruit is composed of 4 prickly nutlets, each about 1/3 inch. long. the nutlets break apart at maturity and cling to clothing or animals. A single plant can produce 50-800 seeds. Houndtongue is toxic, containing pyrrolizidine alkaloids, causing liver cells to stop producing. Animals may survive for six months or longer after they have consumed a lethal amount. Sheep are more resistant to houndstongue poisoning than are cattle or horses.
Houndstongue may be found in pastures, along roadsides and in disturbed habitats. In the Alturas WEed Management Area, it is most commonly found in the Big Valley Mountains of Lassen County, within the disturbed soils of Ponderosa Pine and White Fir plantations. Houndstongue prefers areas with more than 10% bare ground and is common on gravelly, alkaline soils. It occurs mostly at elevations of 2,500 to 5,000 feet, but has been found at elevations of up to 9,000 ft.
Houndstonge was introduced into the United States for Europe sometime in the mid 1800's. It is now found throughtout most of the lower 48 states and through much of Canada. In the Western US it occurs throughtout the Cascades
May to July