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My not so friend in the woods

November 18, 2012
Kevin Williams - Grundy County Conservation Director , Reinbeck Courier

I took a trip around the woods a few weeks ago. I was looking for the perfect spot to hang a treestand. When doing that, I commonly have my eyes focused in the branches of the trees rather than the smaller plants that make up the under-story. When I finally glanced down I noticed that my pant legs were covered with seeds and not only the pants. I quickly noticed my sweatshirt had more than its share, too.

There are several plants that produce seeds we commonly call hitchhikers. Their method of seed dispersal is sticking to and catching a ride with an animal generally mammals and many times specifically humans.

Plants can locate into new areas by one of two methods. One method is vegetatively. Strawberries do this by sending out runners that then root and become established on their own. The other more common method is through seed dispersal. Some produce seeds that float with the wind. Others taste really good and are carried and buried or eaten and "pass through" in another location.

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And then there are the kind that I had all over me. The hitchhikers. They become stuck in fur or feathers, or clothes.

The seeds plaguing me after this particular trip into the woods was Hackelia virginiana. You might know it as beggar's lice, or beggar's ticks, or sticktights, or stickseeds, or stickweed. That's the problem with common names what is called one thing out east is probably called something else in the midwest.

Its flowers are negligible and its leaves coarse and rough and it's fruits... well what else can I say but they are a nasty bit of work. Just brush against stickweed in the fall, and huge clumps of its barbed fruits end up clinging tightly to you.

Watch out for it in the woods because I am convinced that it lies in wait for unsuspecting and distracted bowhunters (and other hikers).



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