Arctium minus Bernh.
July to October I Family: Asteraceae
Flower: Groups of flower heads are on the tips of branches or on long stalks from leaf nodes. Under each flower head is a big olive-shaped ovary covered with green spines with hooked ends. The flower heads have numerous tube flowers ranging from pink to purple. The pistils stick out with white styles and divided pink to purple stigmas.
Leaf: The alternate leaves are triangular with a strong midvein and long petiole. As the leaves go higher on the stem, the petioles get shorter and the leaves smaller. Their edges are smooth and wavy. On top they have a few hairs mostly over the veins. Underneath they are covered with short hairs so they feel like soft sandpaper.
Stem: Mostly appearing the second year when it can get very tall, nearly six feet. The stem is ridged with minute hairs scattered on it. It can have purple streaks. The older stems get woody. There are numerous branches.
Root: There is a long swollen taproot.
Fruit: The olive-shaped structure contains the seeds. It matures to brown. The hooked spines harden. The hooks catch onto any passerby.
Habitat: Occasionally burdock is in wood openings but is normally found in disturbed areas such as barnyards, pastures and railroad rights of way.
Edibility: Young stems can be eaten as greens. The roots can be eaten or dried and ground in coffee.
Burdock is one of those plants with a double life. For many it is a weed. It is a large plant growing in almost any soil.
For others burdock is a crop grown for its root. As the plant is a biennial meaning it grows leaves and roots for a year and seeds the next, it is normally grown for the first year then harvested so it does not go to seed. The root is said to be of better quality grown this way. The roots are used in herbal medicine.
The ripe seed pods are well known as burs. The hooks grab onto any cloth or fur that brushes them. The pod tears apart when pulled to remove the bur.
In the 1940’s George de Mestral found burrs stuck on his pants. This got him to thinking and experimenting. In 1955 he patented the result as Velcro.
Since burdock is a biennial, it can be eradicated by digging out the year old plants. The seeds can lie dormant for some years so this could take a few years to catch all of them. Missed plants can be kept from seeding.
Usually I end up cutting the flowering stalks down. Like many weeds, once the flowers are pollinated, they will produce seeds so the stalks must be disposed of.