- Seeds That Stick To Clothing: Different Types Of Hitchhiker Plants
- What are Hitchhiker Weeds?
- Types of Hitchhiker Plants
- Weedy Wednesday – Goosegrass (Cleavers)
- The forgotten art of hitchhiking — and why it disappeared
- Many Common Florida Weeds Can be Found on Our Lawns — But They Don’t Have to Stay
- Types of Florida Lawn Weeds
- Broadleaf Plantain (Plantago rugelii Plantago majo)
- Bull Thistle (Cirsium vulgare)
- Crabgrass (Digitaria sanguinalis)
- Dandelion (Taraxacum officnale)
- Goosegrass (Eleusin indica)
- Matchweed (Phyla nodiflora)
- Nutsedge (Cyperus albostriatus)
- Pennywort (Hydrocotvle)
- Quackgrass (Elymus repens)
- Spotted Spurge (Euphorbia maculate)
- Yellow Woodsorrel (Oxalis stricta)
- Getting Rid of Invasive Florida Weeds
- Cool Plants for Kids: 8 that Explode, Eat Bugs, or Stick to You
- Beaked hazelnut
- Pitcher plants
- Norway maples
- Part I: Q&A with Taylor Morgan
- Part II: the taste-test
Seeds That Stick To Clothing: Different Types Of Hitchhiker Plants
Even now, they’re malingering 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, be they 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 (Krameria grayi)
- Puncturevine (Tribulus terrestris)
- Jumping cholla (Opuntia bigelovii)
- Hedge-parsley (Torilis arvensis)
- Calico aster (Symphyotrichum lateriflorum)
- Common burdock (Arctium minus)
- Hound’s-tongue (Cynoglossum officinale)
- Sandbur (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 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.
Weedy Wednesday – Goosegrass (Cleavers)
This week’s plant in our Wednesday Weed series is Goosegrass, also known as Cleavers, or Sticky Willy.
In this weekly series, we take a quick look at common garden weeds. How they grow, what benefits they bring to the garden, and how to manage them. Organic growers recognise the importance of these native plants. Insects and birds need the flowers and seeds – and gardeners, cooks and herbalists can harvest some nutrient rich foliage.
We hope that this snap-shot view of bindweed, dandelion, nettle, bramble, thistle, goosegrass, plantain, fat hen, dock and yes, even ground elder, will help you to live with them. We also give advice on how to compost weeds. You may not love them, but you certainly won’t be tempted to reach for the toxic weed-killer.
For more detailed information on over 100 individual weeds, go to the superbly researched Weeds List, and here for how to manage them.
Goosegrass, Cleavers or Sticky Willy Galium aparine
What: This annual weed is a rapid grower, and can form dense patches, pulling down surrounding plants. It is the small hooked hairs growing out of the stems and leaves which latch on, giving the name Sticky Grass or Sticky Willy. Geese particularly enjoy eating it – hence the nickname Goosegrass!
Habit: This plant can survive in heavy, waterlogged as well as dry soil. It has tiny, star-shaped, greenish-white flowers, from June to August. These develop into globular fruits, or burrs, which are also covered with hooked hairs which cling to clothes and animal fur, aiding seed dispersal. Seedlings that emerge in the autumn reach a height of 10-20 cm at which stage they overwinter. They are not damaged by frost. Stem growth begins again in April, rapidly increasing as days lengthen.
Benefits: Cleaver seeds can be roasted and are claimed to be an excellent coffee substitute (however they do have a laxative and emetic effect.) The dried matt of foliage was once used to stuff mattresses, whereas the roots create a permanent red dye.
Control: As this is an annual weed, hand pulling and hoeing will all help – especially before flowering and seed setting. Alternatively a thick mulch in early spring or late autumn will reduce seedlings’ ability to emerge.
For further information on this and other weeds, go to the Weeds List, and here for how to manage them.
Hitchhiking (also called lifting or thumbing or, universally in several Languages around the world, auto-stop with different pronunciations) is a form of transport, in which the traveller tries to get a lift (a ride) from another traveller, usually a car or truck driver, for free. This wiki contains a lot of information about hitchhiking: where to start, practical info on how to do it, pictures and much much more. If you’ve never hitchhiked before and you want to try it out you should check out the article hitchhiking for the first time.
Contrary to popular opinion there are a lot of hitchhikers, all over the world, even in the United States. There are people like Irv Thomas whose hitchhike experiences span more than half a century. Hitchhiking is a very common means of transport in most less affluent countries (although often a form of payment is expected). Hitchhiking is probably as old as the wheel and will probably exist as long as people need to move from one place to another.
There has been surprisingly little scientific research on hitchhiking, so it’s really hard to say come up with any hard statements on the rise or demise of hitchhiking. There is a nice community of hitchhikers in Europe, and it seems to be growing. It’s sort of going hand in hand with the hospitality exchange movement. Some try to link this to the much larger (and economically highly influential) movement of free software and free information (think GNU/Linux and Wikipedia), and there is huge potential in this sense. If we want it or not, internet will be in people’s pockets and most of our locations are already easily tracked. Link this to the potential trust available in online social networks (friends of friends), the rising prices of petrol and the lower need to be in one location and hitchhiking could be just at the start of a global come-back.
People will participate because it’s ecological, others because of the economical aspects. Numerous people pick up hitchhikers is means of getting a bit of excitement in their life. For some hitchhiking starts as a form of extremely cheap transport and then it turns into a lifestyle that allows to do amazing and useful things without being trapped in an office 5 days a week. Some people have this idea that hitchhikers are stinky bums. Of course, at (rare) times hitchhikers can be on the road for more than 24 hours and feel the need for a shower, but others are traveling equipped with laptops, mobile phones, a fresh shave and shower and GPS devices.
There are several types of hitchhiking.
- traveling by road motor vehicles: cars, trucks, buses.
- traveling by train, either the risky act of train hopping or, as is sometimes possible, with the permission of the engineer or conductor.
- traveling by ocean vessel, often called boathitching
- traveling by air: planes and helicopters, also called airhitching
Please check Wikipedia’s article for more encyclopaedic information about hitchhiking.
The forgotten art of hitchhiking — and why it disappeared
In 1950, Pete Koltnow had just graduated college and needed to get from New York to Yuma, Arizona, where he was due to start a new job. He had no car, so he hitchhiked nearly 2,500 miles, flagging ride after ride from total strangers.
“Back to bumpy seats and the open road,” he wrote to his girlfriend Dot Witter from Villa Ridge, Missouri. “Trucks are kindest to me.”
A routine transportation mode essentially vanished
Koltnow ultimately got to Yuma in a few days. Years later, the series of postcards he sent to Witter became part of a Smithsonian exhibition on transportation history. But that’s not because his trip was at all unusual — it’s because the postcards are a remarkably detailed record of a once-routine transportation mode that has essentially vanished.
Nowadays, hitchhiking is perceived as dangerous, and few drivers are willing to pick someone up. Police departments discourage it, and many states explicitly ban it. Most hitchhikers have no other options, and do so as a last resort.
“Dating back to the Depression and World War II, it used to be very normal to see someone sticking their thumb out and pick them up,” says Alan Pisarski, a transportation researcher. “We lost that somewhere along the way.”
For people too young to remember the age of hitchhiking, it brings up a perplexing question: what happened?
More people own cars — and fewer need to hitchhike
Most experts agree that one of the biggest factors in the decline of hitchhiking has nothing to do with fear of crime. “Probably the most important thing is the huge growth we’ve seen in car ownership,” says David Smith, a British sociologist who’s studied hitchhiking trends.
Since the 1960s, the percentage of US households that own cars has steadily increased — and the proportion of those with multiple cars has grown even faster:
Over the past couple of decades, as cars have lasted longer and gotten cheaper, this trend has extended to lower-income families.
It all adds up to a much smaller percentage of the population needing to hitchhike in the first place. In many developing countries, on the other hand, far fewer people own cars, and hitchhiking is still commonplace.
Interstates and police departments discouraged hitching
During this same period, the Interstate Highway System was built, connecting most of America’s big cities with much faster roads that became the basis for most long-distance travel.
While hitchhiking isn’t explicitly banned on all interstates, laws prohibit pedestrians from walking along side them, so getting a ride is much more difficult. Motorists that previously passed through small towns on state routes now whiz across the country on highways, stopping mostly at exits or rest stops.
Meanwhile, a few states have made hitchhiking entirely illegal, while others have banned it on highways. The vast majority of states permit it, but have laws prohibiting hitchhikers from standing on the road itself (some permit them to stand on the shoulder, while others are unclear):
While these laws aren’t always enforced, Pisarski says they’ve made hitching riskier and served as a deterrent.
Law enforcement used scare tactics to make it seem dangerous
Starting in the 1960s and ’70s, some of the first laws against hitching were passed, and local and federal law enforcement agencies began using scare tactics to get both drivers and hitchhikers to stop doing it. This 1973 FBI poster, for instance, warned drivers that a hitcher might be a “sex maniac” or a “vicious murderer”:
(University of Texas Press)
Other campaigns emphasized the risks to women — and implicitly suggested they’d be blamed for anything that happened to them. “Police officers at Rutgers University handed out cards to hitchhiking women that read, ‘If I were a rapist, you’d be in trouble,'” Ginger Strand, author of Killer on the Road: Violence and the American Interstate, recounted in a recent New York Times op-ed.
Combine this with a handful of horror movies involving hitchhiking murderers, as well as high-profile murder victims who’d been hitching, and you get the now-dominant perception that hitchhiking is simply too risky too try.
But there’s no evidence hitchhiking is all that dangerous
In her op-ed, Strand goes on to note that we’ve never had good evidence that hitchhikers — or the drivers who pick them up — are particularly likely to be raped or murdered. One of the few studies on the topic, conducted by the California Highway Patrol in 1974, concluded that “the results … do not show that hitchhikers are over represented in crimes or accidents beyond their numbers.”
The study did find that women were much more likely than men to be raped while hitchhiking, a fact that’s certainly still true today. But most murders, violent injuries, and rapes are committed at home by a friend, family member, or acquaintance of the victim. According to the FBI, there were just 675 cases or murder or sexual assault along the Interstates from 1979 to 2009 — and not all of these involved hitchhikers.
The widespread fear of hitchhiking is probably motivated less by evidence than by a pair of other trends. In his research, Smith argues that even as it became rarer, it seemed more dangerous because of the people still doing it.
A fear of strangers has blossomed in American society over the past few decades
“People who don’t have cars and are trying to hitchhike might be perceived as weirder, more deviant, or more dangerous,” he says. The more stigmatized it became, the fewer drivers who were likely to pick someone up. Fewer willing drivers led to fewer people trying to hitch, and the downward spiral continued.
Our fear of hitchhiking might also fit into a more general fear of strangers that has blossomed in American society over the past few decades. Parents instruct their children never to talk to strangers, for instance — but in reality, the overwhelming majority of child abductions are committed by family members.
In much the same way, about 30,000 people die in car accidents every year, but the few dozen who are murdered along the highways make hitchhiking a much palpable threat than driving. Our perceived fear of hitchhiking has surpassed the actual risk of it. “There’s a kind of safety bug that’s taken over in society,” Pisarski says. “We’re much more reluctant to interact with strangers than before.”
Could hitchhiking make a comeback through ride-sharing?
(Getty Images/Evelyn Hockstein/For The Washington Post)
More recently, smartphones and location-based apps have allowed people to share rides with strangers again. They make it seem safer by providing information about them, usually through their Facebook profiles.
These apps take a few different forms. There’s CabCorner, Via, UberPool, and Lyft Line, which let you split a cab or other paid ride with people nearby who need to get to a similar destination. Hovee matches you with co-workers or other commuters who share a similar route to work, and Carma Carpooling does the same, but charges riders and pays the driver to offset gas costs.
There’s also slugging, a lower-tech practice that first developed in DC during the 1970s and is still practiced by a few thousand people daily there and in San Francisco. People who want a ride simply line up at set locations near highways, and drivers pick them up, primarily so they can drive in HOV lanes or avoid paying tolls.
Sure, all this is a bit different from someone hitching a ride with their thumb out by the side of the road. But it achieves the same basic benefit of putting otherwise empty seats in cars to use, reducing traffic.
“From a transportation capacity standpoint, the biggest wasted resource we have is all those empty seats,” Pisarski says. “Anything we can do to help fill those up is a positive thing.”
Many Common Florida Weeds Can be Found on Our Lawns — But They Don’t Have to Stay
Weeds are one contributing factor that prevent beautiful Florida lawns from looking their best during summer months.
It can be frustrating to maintain a lawn with so many types of weeds to combat, especially if the homeowner doesn’t know much about the different common Florida lawn weeds.
Being able to identify the types of weeds in Florida can make all the difference in having a lush, green, and healthy yard, or one that is overgrown with invasive and unsightly weeds.
Types of Florida Lawn Weeds
Broadleaf Plantain (Plantago rugelii Plantago majo)
The broadleaf plantain, or common plantain, is the most common weed found throughout the United States, including in Florida.
It’s much like the dandelion throughout the United States — a perennial, adaptive weed that can grow in almost any type of Florida lawn or wooded area.
While the broadleaf plantain is considered a weed — just like the dandelion, it can be used for medicinal purposes and overall health benefits. It has plenty of nutrients that can be used for helping with chronic diarrhea and some digestive tract disorders.
Commonly found in wet, compacted soil, the broadleaf plantain has oval or egg-shaped leaves with distinct veins that run parallel to each other. It can survive under aggressive mowing and constant trampling conditions, making it a difficult weed for Florida residents to remove from their lawn.
Bull Thistle (Cirsium vulgare)
A biennial plant, the bull thistle is also known as the spike thistle or common thistle and can grow between 2 to 5 feet in height.
Identified by the rosette form, the bull thistle contains many spine-like leaves that are rough to the touch. Small rose-colored blossoms can be produced on it as well.
The bull thistle weed is a good source of nectar used by a variety of pollinating insects, but it is generally not something animals eat, making it a weed that grows in abundance.
Bull thistles can only be spread by their seeds, not by their roots. Since animals tend to ignore the weed, it prospers in areas that are bare, either because of previous disturbances or due to heavy grazing.
There are nine different types of thistle species found in Florida, including the bull thistle. Others found in Florida include swamp thistle, purple or yellow thistle, and Virginia thistle, among others. The removal of thistles, no matter the species, is the same throughout Florida.
Crabgrass (Digitaria sanguinalis)
Crabgrass is an annual weed that pops up every summer.
Also known as finger-grass and fonio, the invasive weed is adaptive and can take on several different appearances. Crabgrass prefers to grow in the bare or thin areas of your lawn.
Planting grass seeds in bare locations can help to deter crabgrass from taking over your lawn. Once the seeds you’ve planted begin to grow, it’s imperative to have a professional maintain the overall health and appearance of your landscape.
Crabgrass is made up of blades that are two inches in length, shaped like fingers, rough to the touch, sometimes with small hairs and rolled at the bud of the plant.
In Florida, five different types of crabgrass can be found, including: India crabgrass, smooth crabgrass, tropical crabgrass, blanket crabgrass, and southern crabgrass.
Dandelion (Taraxacum officnale)
Dandelions are one of the toughest weeds to rid from your lawn.
The seeds can spread easily, whether it’s a slight breeze or other form of disturbance, and the yellow flowers can grow in just about any environment.
While they typically prefer moist soil to grow, they’ll thrive anywhere and can even spread underground.
The weed’s roots can grow to be up to 10 inches tall. And if they’re not removed properly, the slightest breakage in the root will allow the plant to regenerate itself.
Dandelions are best known by the yellow flower heads that turn white, meant for spreading seeds to grow more flowers. The base of the plant lies low and flat to the ground, with long, tooth-shaped leaves.
Most commonly, dandelions thrive in moist soil with plenty of sun. With the abundance of sun Florida gets during the summer months, this type of weed is very common.
Goosegrass (Eleusin indica)
Goosegrass is also known as the Indian goosegrass, wiregrass, yard-grass, or crow-foot grass.
An annual weed that can become quite invasive in certain areas, goosegrass is most prevalent in exposed, well disturbed areas, but can adapt to other conditions such as low mowing heights and dry, compacted soil.
Most typically, you can find goosegrass on the green area of a golf course, something Florida is obviously well known for having an abundance of, making it commonplace throughout Florida. Goosegrass is best known for its flat, white stems and smooth, hairless blades.
Proper lawn care is the best solution to keeping goosegrass from springing up. Keeping your lawn well-watered and proper height that encourages the grass to grow thick and strong is the best course of action.
Matchweed (Phyla nodiflora)
Matchweed can go by other names including: the frog fruit, sawtooth frog fruit, and the turkey tangle.
This weed typically grows in tropical climates, which makes Florida the ideal place for it to thrive. Consisting of a cluster made up of a purple center, surrounded by pink to white flowers, the matchweed gets its name from its match head shape.
Matchweed prefers soil that is very moist and areas around limestone. Making sure your lawn is properly aerated, and following a proper watering schedule, can help to prevent matchweed infestations.
Nutsedge (Cyperus albostriatus)
Commonly known as papyrus sedges, flatsedges, umbrella-sedges, and galingales, nutsedge can be difficult to manage due to their resilience to extreme conditions like heat, drought, even flooding.
The grass-like weed is made up of blades with yellow or purple leaves and flowers at the tip of the stem. Nutsedge can grow between 8 to 14 inches deep into the ground, making it hard for Florida residents to remove from their landscape.
Maintaining the proper height of your lawn helps the landscape flourish while diminishing the possibility of the nutsedge plant gaining dominance of your yard.
The pennywort, also known as dollarweed, is a perennial plant best seen growing in warmer climates, making it a common Florida lawn weed.
Leaves are bright green and round, or kidney-like, in shape. Pennywort can be eaten, usually put in salads or used as a medicinal herb. There are several different species of pennywort, one of which grows in or around bodies of water.
The pennywort can be a difficult weed to get rid of as it spreads by seed and by its underground stems which form dense mats. These mats then begin to spread and can even grow in water.
Common throughout Florida, water pennywort has green-circular leaves attached on long stalks, similar to umbrellas in appearance.
Quackgrass (Elymus repens)
Quackgrass is a perennial weed that goes by many other names, including couch grass, twitch, quick grass, dog grass, quitch grass, witch grass, and scutch grass.
It is most commonly confused with crabgrass, even though it is much harder to get rid of than crabgrass. Quackgrass has flat hairy leaves, thick blades, and can grow to upwards of 4 feet if left untouched.
Mowing your lawn regularly, over seeding any bare patches with desired grass, and fertilizing can help to control quackgrass from invading your yard. The healthier your grass, the better chance you have to eliminate the weed from your landscape.
Spotted Spurge (Euphorbia maculate)
The spotted spurge, also known as prostrate spurge, is an annual plant and a fast-growing common lawn weed that grows in the United States.
What makes the spotted spurge so common to Florida is the fact that it flourishes in locations with an abundance of sun and different types of soil. The weed is most invasive in weak areas of the lawn, spreading, at times, several thousands of seeds.
Maintaining regular lawn care is essential to keeping the spotted spurge from destroying your grass.
The spotted spurge is low to the ground with small oval leaves spread out in rows along lengthy stems. The leaves contain a dark purple blemish at the center. Spotted spurge can be removed by hand. Keep in mind that the weed can break off at the stem, and has the ability to grow back, so make sure you remove all of the plant.
Yellow Woodsorrel (Oxalis stricta)
Yellow woodsorrel, also known as the common yellow oxalis, upright yellow-sorrel, and the lemon clover, is a weed that grows both as an annual and perennial.
Commonly found in meadows and wooded areas, the yellow woodsorrel is best identified by three heart-shaped leaves, resembling a clover, with stems that stretch low to the ground and can reach up to twenty inches in length.
The yellow woodsorrel prefers warmer climates making it a common lawn weed in Florida. It can be a very difficult weed to control, so making sure you dig out the weed at the root as soon as you see it will help keep the yellow woodsorrel from spreading.
Maintaining thick, healthy grass is the best way to prevent a yellow woodsorrel invasion because the weed loves fertile soil.
Getting Rid of Invasive Florida Weeds
Most of these species of weeds in Florida can easily be removed by deep digging to cut out the roots as well as the plant before they have a chance to spread their seeds.
Mowing your lawn to proper heights and watering your grass routinely are other ways you can keep weeds from becoming a nuisance during the summer months.
If you’re still having issues with weeds invading your lawn in Florida, contact us today and let our Lawn Care Services team take care of you.
We’ve all had the experience of returning from a walk in a field or forest and discovered that parts of our clothing, socks or shoe laces are loaded with little seeds or burs. It can even be worse for dog owners.
Here is a look at the main culprits.
Burdocks come in two species and both have similar “burs” though the Great Burdock “burs” are larger than the Common Burdock “burs and have longer stalks.
Great Burdock (Arctium lappa)Great Burdock (Arctium lappa)
Common Burdock (Arctium minus) Common Burdock (Arctium minus)
The seeds are called “ticks” and have nothing to do with insect “ticks.” The leaves are divided into three leaflets (“trefoil”)
Pointed-leaf Tick-trefoil has a pointed leaf.
Pointed-leaved Tick-trefoil (Desmodium glutinosum) Pointed-leaved Tick-trefoil (Desmodium glutinosum)
Showy Tick-trefoil has linear leaves
Showy Tick-trefoil (Desmodium canadense) Showy Tick-trefoil (Desmodium canadense)
Two plants have nicknames with the word “beggar” in it demonstrating the fact that they “hitch a ride”.
Beggar-ticks (Bidens frondosa)
Stickseed (Hackelia deflexa) Virginia Stickseed (Hackelia virginiana)
A few years ago, I released this Kinglet which had become ensnared in Beggar’s-lice.
Kinglet caught in Stickseed
Enchanter’s-nightshade (Cirsaea canadensis) Enchanter’s-nightshade (Cirsaea canadensis)
Hedge-parsley (Torilis japonica) Hedge-parsley (Torilis japonica)
Yellow Avens (Geum aleppicum) Yellow Avens (Geum aleppicum) Yellow Avens (Geum aleppicum)
Cool Plants for Kids: 8 that Explode, Eat Bugs, or Stick to You
Guest post by Heather Stephenson.
Be Out There is excited to partner with the Appalachian Mountain Club’s Kids Outdoors online community to help more kids and families explore the outdoors! By sharing ideas and resources through guest blogs, we’re working to bring more nature into children’s lives.
Photo courtesy of Kids Outdoors.
Whether on a neighborhood walk or a mountain hike, children often notice and enjoy the local plants. You can expand their horizons—and your own—beyond the usual pine cones and birch bark by learning about these fascinating flora of the Northeast: From exploding puffballs and Velcro-like burdock to carnivorous sundews and pitcher plants, they’re sure to be crowd-pleasers on your next family outing.
“The explosion factor is obviously fun,” says AMC Senior Naturalist Nicky Pizzo, who recommends the following eight plants as favorites from her experience leading schoolchildren on nature walks. “But getting down to their level and looking at anything close up is fun for them—going at their pace, slowing down.”
Go ahead and encourage children to be hands-on, so long as they are not pulling a plant from the ground. “I don’t want kids to take or eat anything,” Pizzo says. “But we want kids to touch things and smell things. It’s that curiosity that makes them want to go back outdoors.”
Puffballs – Kids.Outdoors.org
A puffball is a fungus that develops spores (the fungal equivalent of seeds) inside a “fruiting body,” which often looks like a stalkless round mushroom on the forest floor. (The fungus has filaments called hyphae extending underground, but you can’t see the traditional stalk and cap of a mushroom.) When the spores are mature, the ball bursts and clouds of brown, dust-like spores escape. Puffballs explode in response to impacts, like that of falling raindrops.
Kids may want to tap a puffball with a shoe or twig to see if it’s ready to burst. “They’ll puff when they’re at the right stage,” Pizzo says. “If it’s hard, the spores are not ready to be released.” Pizzo warns children to keep their faces at a distance so they won’t inhale the spores if the puffball explodes, but otherwise, she lets them stomp away. “I want kids to touch those,” she says. “You’re not digging up the roots. You’re not doing anything that that plant doesn’t want you to do.” By releasing the spores, you’re just helping to make more puffballs.
Where: Northeastern wooded areas
Jewelweed is fun for two reasons: the way the pod pops, and the edible seed inside. The scientific name for this flowering plant, Impatiens (Latin for “impatient”), and a common name for it, “touch-me-not,” both refer to the way the seedpods explode. The mature capsules will burst on contact, sending seeds as much as 10 feet away. Once you learn how to identify this plant confidently and have some fun helping it disperse its seeds, you can also try a taste. After rubbing the outer coating off the seed, you will find “they’re a gorgeous blue color and they taste like almonds,” Pizzo says.
Where: Wet areas near ponds and lakes.
The beaked hazelnut is another plant whose interest for kids lies mainly in its seedpod. The pods, which are on the branches by the leaves, look like the heads of birds with long beaks, as the plant’s name suggests. Within each is an edible nut. But be careful: The seedpod’s hairs can prick your fingers. “The first time I saw one, I grabbed it and said ‘Ouch,’” Pizzo recalls. “The shrub itself is pretty unremarkable, but the pods stand out if the shrubs are along the trail. They are beautiful to look at.” Once ripe, the hairs toughen up and no longer stick you if you touch them.
Where: Wet areas near ponds and lakes.
When: Pods ripen in late summer.
Carnivorous pitcher plants live in bogs, where they trap and feast on insects. They lure bugs down into deep pools of digestive enzymes within their green, pitcher-shaped leaves. The rim of the pitcher becomes slippery when moistened by dew or nectar, and the inside of the pitcher may contain waxy scales or downward-pointing hairs to ensure that prey cannot climb out.
Kids often enjoy this grisly side of the plant kingdom. If you see a pitcher plant, suggest peering inside.“They might see insects, sometimes frogs,” Pizzo says. “The frogs can get out; they go in to grab the insects that get attracted and caught there.”
When: Spring through fall. They flower in spring.
Another carnivorous plant you’ll find in Northeastern bogs is the sundew, a pretty flower that traps hapless creatures using sticky hairs on its leaves, which then curl up. The sticky hairs look like tentacles with glistening drops of dew on their ends, giving the plant its name. Most sundews in the Northeast are small so you have to get down to the level of the plants to see what’s happening, which is perfect for kids.
When: Spring through fall.
Burdock – Kids.Outdoors.org
Round spiked burrs from this plant catch onto fur and clothing. Once the burrs are pulled off, or dry and fall apart, the seeds have been carried to a new location, helping the plant spread (This is a “seed dispersion mechanism,” if your kids like scientific terms).
Burdock is said to be the inspiration for Velcro. A Swiss inventor in the 1940s reportedly became curious about the seeds’ hooking system after taking his dog for a walk and studied it under the microscope. Later, the system was replicated synthetically.
Burdock also makes a memorable appearance in the children’s book Ramona and Her Father, by Beverly Cleary. In the story, Ramona makes a crown of burdock that sticks to her hair so well that her hair has to be cut to get it off. “I wouldn’t recommend putting them in your hair or making a crown of them,” Pizzo says with a laugh.
Where: Fields; you might find these among weeds along the edge of a local baseball field.
When: Late summer.
Like the burrs of burdock, the burrs of beggarticks hitchhike on animal’s fur and people’s clothing or skin. The scientific name for this plant—Bidens—means “two-tooth,” from the Latin bis “two” and dens “tooth.” The small burr has two sticky points that attach its body to you. Because they are tiny, “all of a sudden you look down and you have 50 of them on your leg,” Pizzo says.
Where: Among weeds in fields
When: Late summer.
For a final recommendation, Pizzo suggests looking for Norway maples, shade trees that are common in the Northeast, although they are considered an invasive species in the White Mountain National Forest where she often works. Norway maples are native to eastern and central Europe and southwestern Asia, but became popular as a street tree in the United States because they are tolerant of poor soil conditions and urban pollution. These trees disperse their seeds in “helicopter” or “whirligig” pods, which are meant to travel. You and your kids can get a lot of mileage out of twirling the winged pods, called samara, and seeing how far they fly. Pizzo also likes to pull a samara apart into its two halves, then split one open with her fingernail. “It splits right down the middle and it’s sticky,” she says. “Naturally you stick it on your nose.”
Where: Around your neighborhood.
Find out more about fascinating flora in these articles:
- Beauty and the Bog
- 7 Bogs to Visit in the Northeast
- Murky and Quirky: Explore these wetlands, where mud and marvelous creatures rule (includes five recommended wetlands—swamps and bogs—to visit)
This article originally appeared on AMC’s Kids Outdoors in September 2013.
Be Out There is NWF’s movement to reconnect American kids with the great outdoors. Visit BeOutThere.org for more outdoor activities and inspirations or sign up for our monthly e-newsletter: www.beoutthere.org/newsletter.
When I first heard about the seed-bearing, organic, and biodegradable lollipops made by Amborella Organics, I just couldn’t believe my ears. As a kid, I enjoyed the sweet-treat of Dum Dum lollipops that were given to me at doctor’s offices, but I didn’t think twice about throwing away the sticks. I never imagined that I would one day be able to enjoy a lollipop, plant the stick, and then watch it grow into plants and herbs.
That’s why when I first heard about Amborella Organics lollipops, I had a lot of questions. How do these lollipops work? What’s the story behind them? I reached out to the company’s co-owner Taylor Morgan, who answered all of my questions. Then, I tried the lollipops out for myself.
Part I: Q&A with Taylor Morgan
Photo courtesy of Heather Collins
Q: For readers who have not heard about Amborella Organics, how would you describe your lollipops?
A: We make organic, seed-bearing lollipops that, once devoured, can be planted to grow herbs and flowers. Each herb or flower grown from the biodegradable stick, made from recycled paper, has a connection to what you just consumed. Sage & Marshmallow grows sage, while Lavender & Lemongrass grows lavender. Our intention is for people to share the experience of a seed-bearing lollipop with someone they love.
Q: What was the inspiration behind these seed-bearing lollipops?
A: Brennan Clarke, my boyfriend and co-owner of Amborella Organics had this daydream of a lollipop growing herbs and flowers while watering his tomatoes. He’d grown up gardening with his grandma, and tomatoes were something they’d grow every year together. She had recently passed away, and he was struck with how pronounced that time was gardening with her, in his mind. He began to think about ways for children and grandparents to have more experiences like this, and the inherent resemblance of a flower to a lollipop gave him the idea for a seed-bearing lollipop. He sat with this idea for a few years and shared it with me one day over coffee. I thought it was incredible and wanted to bring his idea to life, so, together, we did so!
Q: How do you come up with the lollipop flavor combinations that you offer?
A: We initially worked with an established candy maker that we loved as we had zero background in making candy, but, today, we design the flavors ourselves! It starts with an herb or flower as we have to find a connection between the flavor and the heirloom seed. From there, we find something that melds well with that.
Q: Can you describe the process that happens beneath the soil once the lollipop stick has been planted?
A: As the stick becomes moist, it enables the seed to escape. The seed will begin germination as the stick simultaneously begins to decompose.
Q: How does Amborella see itself fitting on college campuses?
A: In such a crucial time in a person’s life, we want the core ideas of Amborella—sustainability, creativity, and community—to encourage students, when thinking about the future, to be inspired by something as simple as a lollipop.
Part II: the taste-test
Photo courtesy of Heather Collins
I’ll be honest: before trying Amborella’s lollipops, I could not remember the last time I had a lollipop. So, I was very excited to try these, especially because of their creative flavor combinations. I didn’t try all of the flavors offered on Amborella’s website, but I got to taste-test several of them. I felt so sophisticated while enjoying this lollipop, which is something I never thought I’d feel with this type of candy (including homemade lollipops and organic lollipop brands.)
First, I tried the Champagne & Roses flavor, which I was honestly most excited about. I could immediately taste an underlying grape flavor, but it was definitely not the grape medicine type we all dread. It was a refreshing, fruity flavor. Then, after the first few licks, the champagne flavor started peeking through in a way that wasn’t too overpowering. I will admit that the texture is different than most lollipops because you can taste and feel the actual rose petals. It took some getting used to at first, but I ultimately enjoyed the fact that I could see the actual plants incorporated into making the lollipops that would eventually grow from the seed-bearing sticks. This flavor was undoubtedly one of my favorites.
Next, I tried the Sage & Marshmallow lollipop. If you don’t like the taste of sage, then I would recommend going for a different one of Amborella’s unique flavor combinations. The sage element was immediately evident when I tried this lollipop, but I could also taste and smell a hint of burnt marshmallow, which made me feel like I was sitting by a warm campfire. For those who are more sensitive to texture, this lollipop may be preferable to the Champagne & Roses option. Although it is slightly more grainy, you won’t feel those sizable rose petal pieces.
After Sage & Marshmallow, I tried the Lavender & Lemongrass lollipop. Personally, I don’t enjoy lemongrass, so I was hesitant about this flavor. The mild citrus undertone from the lemongrass wasn’t for me, but I can definitely see how citrus-lovers would love it.
The same citrus-inspired doubt that came with my tasting of the Lavender & Lemongrass lollipops continued as I tried the Lemon & Thyme flavor. I was shocked by how genuinely refreshing and tasty I found this flavor to be. I am not the biggest thyme-enthusiast, so the light thyme smell of the lollipop was discouraging at first. However, the thyme is not overwhelming at all, and I found that it was the perfect spice combination to compliment the lemon. To me, it tasted kind of like lemon poppyseed bread, which, though unexpected, helped tone-down the citrus flavor of the lemon to highlight how the lollipop flavors actually work together.
Then I went for the Rosemary & Mint lollipop. I couldn’t really taste the rosemary flavor, but that may just be my wonky taste buds. However, I could taste the mint flavor and found it to be very prominent. The lollipop tastes a lot like a candy cane, so it made my mouth feel minty-fresh while also putting me in the winter holiday spirit.
Next, I tried the Vanilla & Hibiscus flavor, which I enjoyed just as much as the Champagne & Roses lollipop, making it one of my favorites. Before having this lollipop, I didn’t know how to describe the taste of hibiscus—but I get it now. The lollipop is pleasantly floral and amazing. The hibiscus is its own unique brand of flower, and when combining that undertone with what seems to be a Madagascar Vanilla flavor, everything just comes together perfectly.
Finally, I taste-tested the Peach & Marigold lollipop. While this may be an odd way to describe a lollipop, I thought it was quite rich (and almost creamy) in flavor. Think of it as a flowery-peach combo with the underlying richness of a peach yogurt. It wasn’t my favorite lollipop, but I certainly didn’t dislike it either. By this point, I think my taste-buds had reached a sugar- and lollipop-overload, so I was having trouble distinguishing tastes and flavors. My taste buds were confused. Happy, but confused.
In the end, it was cool to learn more about the story behind Amborella Organics before trying out their lollipops for myself. If you’re just as curious about these lollipops as I was, then I definitely recommend trying one of their lollipop flavors. While a single lollipop sells for $6.75, there are some cheaper options per unit on their website, too. Their lollipops are certainly not cheap, but keep in mind that you’re not just buying a lollipop—you’re also getting a plant. I do think it’s worth to experience at least once. Personally, I know I can’t wait to watch these seed-bearing sticks grow into plants and herbs—how often do you get to see that?