It looks a bit like a gigantic dandelion, with the “poofball” as my kids called it up to three inches across. Also called Western Goat’s Beard, Wild Oysterplant, Yellow Salsify, Yellow Goat’s Beard, Meadow Goat’s Beard, Goat’s Beard, Goatsbeard, Common Salsify, or Salsify, its European kin, Tragopogon porrifolius, makes an edible root eaten for its mild oyster-like taste.
This plant was new to me in the late 70s, an invasive from Europe, first spreading in the western states, and this past weekend, found everywhere along the Blue Ridge Parkway.
My kids loved this plant–one we really had to look for back then. If you take a single “parachute” from the head and remove the long stalk and seed at the bottom of it, the top pappus bristle “sail” is so buoyant it will hang in the air like a strange sea creature suspended in a clear ocean, even on a windless afternoon. They would chase it across the pasture until it vanished into the inverted depths of the ocean of mountain air.
Larger image of Tragopogon dubius is here.