What Is Scorzonera Root: How To Grow Black Salsify Plants

What Is Scorzonera Root: How To Grow Black Salsify Plants

By: Amy Grant
Image by Manuel M. V.

If you haunt the local farmers market, you’ll no doubt end up finding something there that you have never eaten; possibly never even heard of. An example of this might be scorzonera root vegetable, also known as black salsify. What is scorzonera root and how do you grow black salsify?

What is Scorzonera Root?

Also commonly referred to as black salsify (Scorzonera hispanica), scorzonera root vegetables may also be called black vegetable oyster plant, serpent root, Spanish salsify, and viper’s grass. It has a long, fleshy taproot much akin to that of salsify, but black on the exterior with white interior flesh.

Although similar to salsify, scorzonera is not related taxonomically. Leaves of scorzonera root are spiny but finer in texture than salsify. Its leaves are also broader and more oblong, and the leaves can be used as salad greens. Scorzonera root vegetables are also more vigorous than their counterpart, salsify.

In its second year, black salsify bears yellow flowers, looking much like dandelions, off its 2-3 foot stems. Scorzonera is a perennial but is usually grown as an annual and is cultivated just like parsnips or carrots.

You’ll find black salsify growing in Spain where it is a native plant. Its name is derived from the Spanish work “escorze near,” which translates to “black bark.” The snake reference in its alternate common names of serpent root and viper’s grass comes from the Spanish word for viper, “scurzo.” Popular in that region and throughout Europe, black salsify growing is enjoying a fashionable trending in the United States along with other more obscure veggies.

How to Grow Black Salsify

Salsify has a long growing season, about 120 days. It is propagated via seed in fertile, well-draining soil that is fine textured for the development of long, straight roots. This veggie prefers a soil pH of 6.0 or above.

Prior to sowing, amend the soil with 2-4 inches of organic matter or 4-6 cups of an all-purpose fertilizer per 100 square feet of planting area. Remove any rock or other large impediments to reduce root malformation.

Plant the seeds for black salsify growing at a depth of ½ inch in rows 10-15 inches apart. Thin black salsify to 2 inches apart. Keep the soil uniformly moist. Side dress the plants with a nitrogen based fertilizer in mid-summer.

Black salsify roots can be stored at 32 F. (0 C.) in a relative humidity of between 95-98 percent. The roots can tolerate a slight freeze and, in fact, can be stored in the garden until needed. In cold storage with high relative humidity, the roots will keep for two to four months.

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