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Home Columns Range Plants Buffalo Burr

Buffalo Burr

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By Jake Landers
Published July 2012

Jake Landers Robust Buffalo Burr grows in the author’s lawn in San Angelo where he had filled in a spot with soil from the family ranch last year. A thumbnail sketch of Buffalo Burr would include: stickers all over leaf, stem, and fruit; long-lived seed, annual roots, responds to soil disturbance, and largely inedible for man and beast.

Buffalo Burr (Solanum rostratum) is a member of the Potato Family, many of which are poisonous to humans and grazing animals. Our familiar Irish Potato occasionally is green in the outer layer of the tuber that contains solanine, a poison thought to cause spina-bifida in babies when overconsumed by pregnant women in Britain.

There are no tubers or other food storage roots in Buffalo Burr. It must grow each time from seed which can last many years in the soil. Perhaps soil disturbance, as in a Buffalo wallow, brings seeds to the surface where they can germinate. Another name is Kansas thistle.

Buffalo Burr flower with snout-like anthers making pollen available for an insect to move about, too sticky for the wind. A native plant, Buffalo Burr is considered a weed by most gardeners and homeowners despite the bright yellow blossoms. Burrs clinging to the shaggy hair of the beast could have assured transport throughout the plains where Bison roamed in earlier times. Too bad the Bison couldn’t have benefited from a little good grazing in exchange for spreading the plant around.

Although it’s a native plant with attractive yellow flowers on our plains and prairies, most thoughtful outdoor people would consider it a weed. It may be unusual to find it in a lawn as shown in the accompanying photos. It came up where I had filled in my lawn with some soil from the ranch, where it can be abundant in overgrazed pastures, garden, water lots, and bedding grounds. I have seen it many times on ranches in our area, but I remember no situation where there was a major effort to control it. Usually it took care of itself the next growing season.

The leaf pattern and the abundance of stickers give a positive identification of Buffalo Burr at a glance and feel. Close examination of the flower structure, usually depended on for identification of most plants, would reveal snout-like anthers releasing pollen that somehow gets distributed to another flower by a pollinating insect.

Reading The Landscape

Here’s a plant that was very abundant this spring in central Texas and elsewhere—probably in every field, roadside and pasture. What is it? What are the conditions under which you would expect to see it again?

Here’s a plant that was very abundant this spring in central Texas and elsewhere—probably in every field, roadside and pasture. What is it? What are the conditions under which you would expect to see it again?    Click here for Jake's answer.


Reading the Landscape: Answer

Jake’s summary: This 6-foot specimen of Scotch Thistle, Onopordum acanthium, a weed from Europe, thrives in May in a borrow ditch along a private road near Menard, Texas.  Plants 12 feet tall have been reported.  Seeds from the rather attractive flower heads are carried by the wind like Dandelions, and establishment begins as a rosette on open ground with abundant fall and winter moisture.  Leaves are big, spiny, and gray-green, with ribbons of tissue up and down the stem.  Plants mature and die in their first summer.  I don’t know how to get rid of it.      —JL

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