Tuesday 23 August 2022

Common Burdock

When out walking in uncultivated areas or long grass, especially at this time of the year, there is a risk of burrs attaching themselves to your clothes. Socks are particularly vulnerable to them. The problem is that you cannot detach burrs without them leaving behind multiple splinters which have to be picked out one by one. Being long haired, our golden retriever often succumbs. 

This is exactly how it should work. Burrs are the seed heads of the burdock and they have evolved an efficient means of seed dispersal through animals (and humans) brushing up against them so that the individual seeds eventually get deposited some distance away from the parent plant.

Around here the Common Burdock (Arctium minus) is indeed very common, growing along the edges of drove ways as well as in rough grass. Before they turn to seed the flowers are quite attractive. They are thistle-like and in two tones of purple (another late Summer purple). 

Common Burdock. The flowers have just
gone over and the seed heads (burrs) have 
nearly ripened ready to catch a passing animal. 

Through history burdock has been ascribed many medicinal and nutritional benefits. Perhaps nowadays burdock is most famous for the invention of Velcro. Swiss engineer, George de Mestral (1907-1990) was intrigued by the way burrs clung to his dog, something which many of us have experienced, during a hunting trip in 1941. After examining the structure of burrs under a microscope he came up with the idea of the hook and loop fastener which he patented as Velcro.

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