Bassia scoparia (Summer Cypress)

Plant Info
Also known as: Mexican Fireweed, Common Kochia, Burning Bush
Family:Amaranthaceae (Amaranth)
Life cycle:annual
Origin:Europe, Asia
  • Weedy
Habitat:sun; dry disturbed soil; roadsides, railroads, waste places, fields, river banks, shores
Bloom season:July - October
Plant height:1 to 5 feet
Wetland Indicator Status:GP: FACU MW: FACU NCNE: FACU
MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):Minnesota county distribution map
National distribution (click map to enlarge):National distribution map

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Detailed Information

Flower: Flower shape: indistinct Cluster type: spike

[photo of flower clusters] Clusters (glomerules) of 1 to 3 tiny, stalkless flowers all along the numerous branches, in the axils of leaf-like bracts, the branch taking on a spike-like arrangement. Flowers are either pistillate (female) or perfect (both male and female parts). Both lack petals, have a round, light green ovary with a short, 2-parted style at the tip; perfect flowers have 5 yellow-tipped stamens, sometimes pink-tipped.

[close-up of flowers] Surrounding a flower is a yellowish to light green calyx with 5 triangular lobes. At the base of the glomerule is a single leaf-like bract, lance-linear, up to about ½ inch long, surfaces hairless or covered in appressed hairs, the edges usually sparsely fringed in long, white hairs, especially near the base; bracts are sometimes hairless.

Leaves and stems: Leaf attachment: alternate Leaf type: simple

[photo of leaves] Leaves are alternate, ¾ to 2½ inches long, up to about ¼ inch wide, mostly lance-linear, pointed at the tip, tapering at the base, stalkless or nearly so. Surfaces are hairless to sparsely hairy, edges are toothless and often fringed with sparse hairs. Stems are erect, green to reddish, finely ribbed, hairless to sparsely hairy, and many-branched, the branches ascending to spreading, often curving up candelabra-fashion, and the plant usually taking on a bushy appearance. Plants commonly break off near the base, forming tumbleweeds to spread their seed.

Fruit: Fruit type: seed without plume

[photo of fruit] Fruit is a dry seed enclosed in the persistent ovary shell (pericarp) that matures from green to brown, loosely wraps the seed, and develops a membranous wing along the outer edge of the 5 lobes. Seeds are oval, 1.2 to 2 mm long, brownish-black.


Summer Cypress, formerly known as Kochia scoparia, is occasional in weedy places such as roadsides, empty lots, gravel pits, dumps, construction sites and railroad rights-of-way. Related to Pigweed (Amaranthus spp.), Goosefoot (Chenopodium spp.) and Russian Thistle (Salsola spp.), Bassia (Kochia) is distinguished from these and other related species by the lack of any white mealy granules on leaves, flowers or fruits, and the lack of any bristle or spiny appendage at the tips of leaves and floral bracts. The common names Mexican Fireweed and Burning Bush come from cultivated plants that turn bright red in fall.

Summer Cypress is a serious pest plant in agricultural fields and can drastically reduce crop yields. It is salt-tolerant, drought-tolerant and herbicide-resistant. Young plants may provide good forage but can be toxic to livestock in large quantities. It is considered a noxious weed in all of Australia and is the bane of legume crop growers in Canada; according to a Canadian Ag publication, a weed survey in 2012 found about 5% of Kochia was resistant to glyphosate and by 2017 it was up to 50%. There is evolution happening pretty much right before your eyes. The weeds may be winning that one.

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More photos

Photos by K. Chayka taken in Ramsey and Traverse counties. Photos by Peter M. Dziuk taken at various locations across Minnesota.


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