IN THE GARDEN; Don’t Let Those Sticky Seeds Get Around As a subscriber, you have 10 gift articles to give each month. Anyone can read what you share. Give this article By Joan Lee Faust There?s a hitchhiker lurking in your car right now and you don?t even know it. Fortunately, it?s not the kind that might end up on the nightly news, but it?s almost as bad where the ecosystem is concerned. Learn more about hitchhiking weeds in this article.
IN THE GARDEN; Don’t Let Those Sticky Seeds Get Around
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By Joan Lee Faust
- Nov. 21, 1999
THERE is more to fall cleanup than raking or blowing leaves away. Although such effort should have top priority to allow the green grass underneath to breathe.
While tending to the chore of cutting down browned stalks, all that are left of bygone bloom, be wary of the problem of garden debris. It ends up on sweat shirts, pants and shoes and once the yard cleanup is over, it often takes just as long to shake off the duff from the outfit. What is that stuff?
They are called stick-tight seeds. It is nature’s way of getting around. Or to put it another way, you have participated in the common methods of seed dispersal. Those who have pets that are allowed to run free near a field or along a rural street know this problem.
Sometimes the results are just as obvious with pets who spend time running around the garden. Most common of the stick-to-fur weed seeds are those burdocks with the hooked spines. Fortunately, most gardeners are able to recognize this weed and pull it up to to keep it out of their gardens. But when pets run in fields or along roadways, they do get into trouble.
Sometimes the burdocks have to be cut from the fur, they stick so tightly. Other troublemakers are members of the bidens clan. Their name actually means ”two teeth.” These two-pronged seeds from plants commonly called stick tights or beggars’ ticks are equal nuisance makers. They not only stick to fur and feathers but also seem to adhere easily to shoe laces as well. What is happening?
The seeds are traveling and sticking to anything they can grab on to, either fabric or fur. Or another common seed carrier are the feathers of birds. Some seeds such as those of the Eupatorium clan are hard to avoid. The old, browned stalks of these tall, elegant plants replace the beautiful statures of the joe-pye weeds or the stately bonesets. These native plants are often used at the backs of borders for their tall finesse that they add to any scene.
But now, they are almost ugly in their fallen state and down they must come. Getting under these stalks to prune them to near ground level means climbing under large floppy stalks. This is when the seeds cling to fabric and even get in your hair.
All of the bedstraws have sticky habits, too. Although the plants are low to the ground, the seeds do have a way of traveling far and wide by hooking a free ride. Some of the feathery goldenrods have a way of messing up things, too, but they are forgiven for their long, late display of color. So are the mums forgiven, although their seeds are better behaved.
Although impatiens seeds do not stick to fabric, they provide a practical lesson in seed dispersal. No wonder they have earned the nickname ”touch me not.” Where early frosts have not destroyed these plants, look underneath the protected leaves to see the spirally fruit. Touch it and the seeds explode. When volunteers of tiny seedlings appear in pots and borders next summer, you can recall where these seeds come from.
Another fascinating way of seed dispersal, too often overlooked, are the unusual pointed seed pods of the geranium clan. These plants are not named cranesbills without reason. The tiny seeds form at the tips of the cranelike formation and sling off, which is one reason to explain why a geranium sprouts over here, when it was planted over there.
In the spring, the feathery stage of the dandelion flower is nothing more than another form of seed dispersal. What is thought of as a lovely soft puff to blow is just the dandelion’s way of getting around. At the base of these light parachutes is a seed. And where it lands, of course, is where the seed grows.
This helps to explain why there are so many dandelions in the lawn come summer. Another dramatic dispersal of seed is demonstrated by the explosive nature of the witch hazel seed. The fat pods of seed form soon after the flowers appear either in late fall or early spring, depending on the particular species. When ripe, the fat seed capsule opens to explode its black seed out on the ground.
Seed travels for some distance, too. One of the most dramatic forms of seed dispersal is by water. One of the largest seeds to be dispersed this way is a coconut, which falls from palm trees. It is easily carried off by ocean waters to distant lands, where it lands on beaches and may eventually sprout into palm trees. This may help explain why the tropical islands are so often forested right down to the water’s edge.
Seed dispersal is not always a good thing, referring again to those who work outdoors. Be careful where the unwanted seeds are discarded when found on clothing. Throw them in the trash, never on the compost pile.
Seeds That Stick To Clothing: Different Types Of Hitchhiker Plants
Even now, they’re lingering along the roadside waiting for you to pick them up and take them wherever you’re going. Some will ride inside your car, others on the chassis and a few lucky ones will find their way into your clothing. Yes, weeds that spread by people, or hitchhiking, have certainly taken advantage of you this year. In fact, the average car carries two to four seeds for hitchhiker plants at any given time!
What are Hitchhiker Weeds?
Weed seeds spread in a variety of ways, whether traveling by water, by air, or on animals. The group of weeds nicknamed the “hitchhikers” are seeds that stick to clothing and fur, making it difficult to dislodge them immediately. Their variously barbed adaptations ensure that the seeds will travel far and wide via animal locomotion, and most can be eventually shaken off down the road somewhere.
Although it might sound like all fun and games, the weeds spread by people are not only difficult to contain, they’re costly for everyone. Farmers lose an estimated $7.4 billion each year in productivity to eradicate these pest plants. Humans are spreading these seeds at a rate of 500 million to one billion seeds a year in cars alone!
Although the weeds within crop stands are annoying, those that appear in fields can be downright dangerous for grazing animals like horses and cattle.
Types of Hitchhiker Plants
There are at least 600 weed species that travel by hitchhiking with humans or on machines, 248 of which are considered noxious or invasive plants in North America. They come from every kind of plant, from herbaceous annuals to woody shrubs, and occupy every corner of the world. A few plants you might be familiar with include the following:
- “Stick-tight” Harpagonella (Harpagonella palmeri)
- “Beggerticks” (Bidens) (Krameria grayi) (Tribulus terrestris) (Opuntia bigelovii) (Torilis arvensis) (Symphyotrichum lateriflorum) (Arctium minus) (Cynoglossum officinale) (Cenchrus)
You can help slow the spread of these hitchhikers by carefully inspecting your clothing and pets before emerging from a wild area full of seeding plants, making sure to leave those unwanted weeds behind. Also, reseeding disturbed areas like your garden plot with a cover crop can ensure that there’s too much competition for hitchhikers to thrive.
Once those weeds emerge, digging them out is the only cure. Make sure to get three to four inches (7.5 to 10 cm.) of root when the plant is young, or else it’ll grow back from root fragments. If your problem plant is already flowering or going to seed, you can clip it at the ground and carefully bag it for disposal – composting will not destroy many of these types of weeds.
Last, but not least, check your car any time you’ve been driving on unpaved roads or through muddy areas. Even if you don’t see any weed seeds, it wouldn’t hurt to clean your wheel wells, undercarriage and any other location where seeds might be hitching a ride.