Southern sandspur has a common, but potentially painful, way of distributing its seed. The barbed progeny hitchhike to their new location, but may become unpleasant companions. (Photo: Les Harrison)
The end of summer has many wishing to enjoy their lawns barefooted for merriment and dancing before the onset of the inevitable cooler weather. Even the ongoing hot weather can be enjoyed, or endured, better with the soles of one’s feet in contact with grasses.
Unfortunately, there are some cautions which must be taken in the local Gardens of Eden. Stickers and thorns silently lay in wait of a tender and unsuspecting foot to violate with a sharp reminder of their presence.
Currently dormant, but soon to sprout spurweed is an annual cool season weed which grows very close to the ground. As temperatures warm in the spring, spurweed grows rapidly forming spine-tipped burs on its central stems.
It usually persists in open areas such as lawns, fields and pastures through May. In cooler years it can actively grow until early June.
The feathery leaves often cause onlookers to confuse this plant with dog fennel, a common native weed, in its spring growth phase. Spurweed, Soliva pterosperma, is actually an invasive exotic native to South America.
The burs are seed which attach to anyone or anything coming into contact, and are deposited at a new site for germination and vegetative conquest. The technique has been very successful for this plant as it is now established in many temperate and tropical locations worldwide.
Similar to the spurweed and often confused with it, sandspurs are native to Florida. While the plants are quite different in appearance, the injury experienced from the seed is identical.
Leon County actually has two native sandspurs. Coastal Sandspur, Cenchrus incertu, and the far more common Southern Sandspur, Cenchrus echinatus. Both populate open, grassy spaces.
Both plants are members of the grass family and can be quite difficult to identify when mixed with other grasses and not producing their seed. Only a single spine on the bur of the Coastal Sandspur separates it as a species from the Southern Sandspur.
While the habitat preferences and seed relocation methods of spurweed and sandspurs are nearly identical, the sandspur can be encountered throughout the year, but are especially abundant currently. Unless identified and avoided before physically contacting the seed, the contact is usually unpleasant.
Mowing is ineffective in the control of sandspur and spurweed. Both have the characteristic of growing close to the ground and will produce seeds below the mowing height.
Additionally, Dewberries and blackberries commonly reside in sunny open spaces and can be camouflaged by taller grasses. Both carry a generous quantity of sharp, stiff thorns.
For the novice, it may be difficult to distinguish dewberry and blackberry when looking at a single leaf. The overall plant appearance and growth habits of these two species are quite different.
Dewberry has a low, vine-like growth habit and rarely reaches heights greater than two feet. Blackberry has a very upright growth pattern and commonly reaches three to six feet in height.
Dewberry commonly has slender thorns with red hairs on the stem while blackberry has hard, tough thorns and no hairs. Both can prove to be painful.
If the 1960’s Tiny Tim song “Tiptoe through the Tulips” inspires outside activity in the waning warm weather, wear sturdy shoes or risk hitting higher notes than his falsettos when locating these hidden surprises.
To learn more about stickers and thorns in the Tallahassee area and Leon County, contact the nearest UF/IFAS County Extension Office or visit https://sfyl.ifas.ufl.edu/find-your-local-office/. To read more stories by Les Harrison visit: Outdoorauthor.com.
Never miss a story: Subscribe to the Tallahassee Democrat.
Read or Share this story: https://www.tallahassee.com/story/life/home-garden/2020/09/18/hitchhiking-burrs-spread-sandspurs-into-lawns/3480631001/