Flowers - Common Burdock; Cockle-bur; Beggar's Buttons; Clot-bur; Cuckoo Button
( Originally Published 1916 )
(Arctium minus) Thistle family
(Lappa oficinalis : var. minor of Gray)
Flower-heads—Composite of tubular florets only, about % in. broad; magenta varying to purplish or white ; the prominent round involucre of many overlapping leathery bracts, tipped with hooked bristles. Stem : 2 to 5 ft. high, simple or branching, coarse. Leaves : Large, the lower ones often 1 ft. long, broadly ovate, entire edged, pale or loosely cottony beneath, on hollow petioles.
Preferred Habitat—Waste ground, waysides, fields, barnyards. Flowering Season—July—October.
Distribution—Common throughout our area. Naturalized from Europe.
A larger burdock than this (A. Lappa) may be more common in a few localities East, but wherever one wanders, this plebeian boldly asserts itself. In close-cropped pastures it still flourishes with the wellarmed thistles and mulleins, for the great leaves contain an exceedingly bitter, sour juice, distasteful to grazers. Nevertheless the unpaid cattle, like every other beast and man, must nolens volens transplant the burs far away from the parent plant to found new colonies. Literally by hook or by crook they steal a ride on every switching tail, every hairy dog and woolly sheep, every trouser-leg or petticoat. Even the children, who make dolls and baskets of burdock burs, aid them in their insatiate love of travel. Wherever man goes, they follow, until, having crossed Europe—with the Romans ?—they are now at home throughout this continent. Their vitality is amazing ; persecution with scythe and plow may retard, but never check their victorious march. Opportunity for a seed to germinate may not come until late in the summer ; but at once the plant sets to work putting forth flowers and maturing seed, losing no time in developing superfluous stalk and branches. Butterflies, which, like the Hoboken Dutch, ever delightin magenta, and bees of various kinds, find these flowers, with a slight fragrance as an additional attraction, generous entertainers.
Any plant which elects to grow in shallow water must be amphibious ; it must be able to breathe beneath the surface as the fish do, and also be adapted to thrive without those parts that correspond to gills ; for ponds and streams have an unpleasant way of drying up in summer, leaving it stranded on the shore. This ac-counts in part for the variable leaves on the arrow-head, those underneath the water being long and ribbon-like, to bring the greatest possible area into contact with the air with which the water is charged. Broad leaves would be torn to shreds by the current through which grass-like blades glide harmlessly ; but when this plant grows on shore, having no longer use for its lower ribbons, it loses them, and expands only broad arrow-shaped surfaces to the sunny air, leaves to be supplied with carbonic acid to assimilate, and sunshine to turn off, the oxygen and store up the carbon into their system.