Begger’s Lice and Other Hitchhiking Weeds
Hitchhiking was once a common means of low cost transportation. A person would walk to the nearest road and hold out their left fist with the thumb pointed up while attempting to make eye contact with drivers.
In a simpler time hitchhikers were commonly provided a ride to a predetermined spot on the map. In exchange they provided companionship and conversation to the driver.
Soldiers on leave, farm laborers, college students and many others used this ride-sharing technique in decades past. While the generosity of strangers still exist, hitchhiking has fallen out of favor with improvements in mass transit and some notable criminal cases involving hitchhikers.
Change in travel preferences notwithstanding, Wakulla County still has plenty of active hitchhikers which are seeking a cheap means of travel. The autumn stimulates plants with hitchhiking seeds to relocate to new territory open for colonization.
One of the most common hitchhiking seeds locally is Bidens alba. It is known by an assortment of common names including Spanish needles, Beggar’s-tick and Hairy Beggar’s-tick and is a member of the daisy family.
The genus name Bidens means two-toothed and refers to the two projections found at the top of the seed. The species name alba means white which refers to the flowers with white pedals and a yellow center.
This Wakulla County native annual uses the two hooked prongs at the end of the seed to attach itself to anything coming into contact. Each plant produces an average of 1,205 seeds which germinate in the spring.
This weed is common in disturbed areas such as roadside ditches and fence rows with full sun exposure. It is capable of growing to six feet in height, but will take mowing and continue blooming.
The relatively recent interest in wildflowers has encouraged the propagation of this plant for landscaping purposes. Additionally, it is a popular late-season source of pollen for honeybees and other pollinators.
Hackelia virginiana is another hitchhiker currently active in Wakulla County. Common names for this weed include Beggar’s Lice, Sticktight and Stickseed and mothers countywide have removed these from their children’s clothing.
The seed pods are approximately 1/8 inch long and are covered with stiff bristly hairs protruding in every direction. Like Spanish needles, anything which brushes against these seeds will carry at least a few to new locations.
The seed pods are green, but will dry to a dark brown. When the outer husk is peeled away, the seed appears as a tiny tan to white bean.
The plant is an erect and has a single stalk about three feet in height. This shallow-rooted plant produces a bloom in mid-to-late summer and seeds in October.
This biennial plant has yet to gain the appreciation of wildflower lovers. It is still considered a weed pest and treated as such.
One byproduct of hitchhiking weeds has been the invention of Velcro. One half of this product resembles coarse fabric and the other side mimics the texture of a cocklebur, a hitchhiking agronomic weed pest.
To learn more about the hitchhiking seeds in Wakulla County, call 850-926-3931 UF/IFAS Wakulla County Extension Office and remember to “like” Wakulla Extension on Facebook.