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Spotted Knapweed


Be on the lookout for this noxious weed and get rid of it.

Spotted knapweed from a distance in June Close-up view of rosette stage in early November
Plant size in late April Flowering stage in late June
(note black-tipped flower bracts)
Close-up view of flower size Cyphocleonus (root borer weevil)

Description, Location and Control Options

Spotted knapweed (Centaurea stoebe micranthos), a weed native to Europe and introduced to the U.S. in the late 1800's, has made its way to Missouri. First spotted in southwest Missouri in 2002, this noxious weed is now found throughout southwest and south-central Missouri mostly south of Interstate 44, as well as two multi-county areas of east-central and north-central Missouri.

Click here to view Missouri counties infested with spotted knapweed.

Click here for a road-by-road map of infestations statewide.

Spotted knapweed is a short-lived perennial plant that grows 2-4 feet tall. It forms a rosette the first year and then sends up a flower stalk the second year. The leaves, which are rather sparse on a hard and woody stem, have a pale green color. The weed blooms in mid-summer, and the flowering bud is about 3/4-inch long. The blooms are pink to purple in color and rather attractive. The roots of this weed produce a toxin that kills other plants within its root zone. The weed reproduces solely by seeds, and the weed is a prolific seed producer, with 1000 or more seeds per plant. Once established, seeds accumulate in the soil, often exceeding 5000 per square foot. The seeds remain viable for at least eight years.

Landowners are advised to be watchful for spotted knapweed, and keep it in check while it is only along roads and not out in pastures. If not controlled, it can rapidly invade pastures and fields and cause a serious decline in forage and crop production.

Several herbicides are effective at controlling spotted knapweed when used in a timely manner. In order of effectiveness are:

  • Milestone at a 5 to 7 ounce per acre rate (based on plant size)

  • Tordon 22K at 1 pint per acre (restricted-use herbicide)

  • Grazon P+D at 4 pints per acre (restricted-use herbicide)

They are best applied at the bud stage in the spring or at the rosette stage in the fall.

Once the plant blooms, herbicides are rather ineffective. The plants should then be pulled up and burned, but landowners are advised to wear gloves to avoid skin irritation from the weed contact.

Biological control, begun in 2008 and expanded in 2009, involved the release of two weevils that are host-specific to the spotted knapweed. Seedhead weevils (Larinus minutus/obtusus) were released in June-July, and root borer weevils (Cyphocleonous achates) were released in August. Knapweed seedhead flies (Urophora quadrifasciata) that feed on spotted knapweed are already present in Missouri.

Seedhead weevil
(Larinus minutus/obtusus)
Root borer weevil
(Cyphocleonous achates)
UV knapweed seedhead fly
(Urophora quadrifasciata)

It will take several years for populations of these insects to grow enough to begin providing significant control of the spotted knapweed.

Locations of the releases made by the Missouri Department of Transportation, Missouri Department of Conservation, and University of Missouri Extension are shown on the county maps below.

County Maps Showing Location of Releases of Biological Control Insects

Barry, Jasper, Lawrence, McDonald & Newton Texas & Howell Franklin & Jefferson
Greene & Christian Carter, Oregon & Shannon Madison & St. Francois
Stone & Taney Maries, Phelps & Pulaski Lincoln & Pike
Webster, Laclede & Wright Crawford & Washington Putnam
Douglas & Ozark    

For more information, contact one of the University of Missouri Extension agricultural specialists or references below:

Name County E-mail Phone
Jay Chism Barton chismj@missouri.edu 417-682-3579
Brie Menjoulet Hickory menjouletb@missouri.edu 417-745-6767
Eldon Cole Lawrence colee@missouri.edu 417-366-3102
John Hobbs McDonald hobbsj@missouri.edu 417-223-4775
Tim Schnakenberg Stone schnakenbergc@missouri.edu 866-357-6812
Bob Schultheis Webster schultheisr@missouri.edu 417-859-2044


Click here for a printer-friendly PDF version of this information.

Click below to download Missouri Department of Conservation two-sided posters on spotted knapweed.

National Invasive Species Information Center

Biology and Biological Control of Knapweed, USDA Forest Service FHTET-2001-07. 2nd Edition.

University of Missouri Extension Weed  Identification

A Brief Guide to Spotted Knapweed (Centaurea maculosa), Amanda Broz, 2006 (4.3 MB PDF)

Last Updated 6/17/2012 by:
Robert A. Schultheis, Natural Resource Engineering Specialist, University of Missouri Extension Center - Webster County,
800 S. Marshall St., Marshfield, MO 65706     Phone: 417-859-2044     E-mail: schultheisr@missouri.edu


University of Missouri Extension Web Manager:  Bob Schultheis
Webster County Extension Center
Email comments to: schultheisr@missouri.edu
Last revised: 06/17/2012

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