Monday, October 1, 2012

Strong Words

As a kid, my folks taught me to use the word "hate" with great caution.  They taught me that it was okay to dislike someone or something, but hating a person or a thing was over the top.  They and their parents lived through the Second World War, after all.  My parents were also active in the civil rights movement, when certain words conveyed an unreasonable hate of others due simply to the color of their skin.  This distaste of the word "hate" has stayed with me as an adult - I rarely use it.  I certainly don't mean to trivialize hateful speech or actions, but I have to say - I absolutely hate cocklebur plants.
Spiny cocklebur - what a lovely plant!
Common cocklebur and spiny cocklebur are invasive plants that seem to be increasingly common in our part of California.  Both plants have large seeds that are covered with Velcro-like spines that hook onto any receptive host - socks, pants, sheep, dogs - you name it.  Shearing sheep that have grazed in cocklebur is an especially unpleasant experience - the hooked spines on the burs seem to break off in the shearer's hand and cause lovely infections.  Our friends at Yolo Wool Mill tell us that the burs we miss in our fleeces cause problems in their carding machine, too.

This afternoon, the dogs and I moved one of our breeding groups about a mile up the road onto fresh pasture.  The sheep broke into a patch of spiny cocklebur in the midst of some green grass, and I had no choice but to send the dogs to bring them back onto the road.  When we finally got home just before 7 p.m., I spent 45 minutes picking the burs out of the dogs - Mo and Taff each had more than 50 burs stuck in their fur.  Left untended, these burs would cause sores and other problems.  The dogs dislike this process (they might even hate it).  After a very long Monday, I did not particularly enjoy it either.

As a grazier and a conservationist, I dislike invasive weeds.  My dislike for yellow starthistle, medusahead barley and barbed goat grass is especially intense.  I have to say, however, that I reserve the word "hate" for cocklebur.  I'm on a mission to eradicate it!  After tonight, so are my dogs!


  1. Ohhhhhhh, spiny cocklebur a weed that I also dislike. Although this plant is native to California and other regions of North America it is extremely noxious. Trying to work in or around this plant is really difficult.

  2. I didn't realize it was a native plant! Doesn't make me like it any more!

  3. I HATE ALL COCKLEBUR and I HATE MEDUSAHEAD. There. Do I feel better? BTW I just looked it up. Common cocklebur (Xanthium strumariuma0 is a native of North America, but spiny cocklebur (X. spinosum) is a native of Europe. I don't have as much of it as I used to because I chop it out anytime I see it.

  4. Yeah, the burrs make an electric 'Lrrrrr' noise as they go through the fiber cleaner and cards... Makes you think it will bog the machines down. The seeds are oily like sunflower seeds and very dense, so they really gob down in the card cloth. As a result they are extremely difficult to pick out when it is time to clean the machines.

    The hard hulls do drop out though in processing, whereas softer burrs, like burdock, manage to slip a few bits through all the way into yarns. It's easy to see them in the dyed yarns and we're always picking bits out when preparing yarn for market displays.

    We don't have the spiny ones here, but along waterways, ponds, dirt tanks and drainages there are lots of the other species. The local strains are bad, but the worst were from some lambs I bought out of Eastern Montana. HUGE burrs with longer spines than ours.

    They're an annual that is easy to control if you pull all of the young plants before/as they flower. I've nearly got them eradicated here, but am still fighting houndstongue, burdock and licorice (that have loads of softer-spined, velcro pods.) The licorice has extensive rhizome systems, so killing them just isn't likely. I top them with a brush hog and hold goats on them to keep them vegetative and it seems to work well to control flowering. Their pods and beans stick in the fiber cleaner too.

    I'm not at all familiar with the spiny species, but the common species is very aromatic (kinda stinky) and full of essential oils, so there are almost definitely medicinal properties. I would have to check a pharm reference to see what it is. It may be worth our while to market the plants we pull to herbalists or homoeopaths.

    Best of luck in controlling those un-friendly burrs!


      Yep, it is a medicinal. Good ol' wikipedia!