Species Profile: Lesser Burdock

Contrary to its name, lesser burdock is a whole lot of plant, reaching heights up to 6 feet tall and extending its invasive range across the United States and Canada. 

Lesser burdock (Arctium minus) is a large biennial plant, meaning that its life cycle takes two years.  In its first year, burdock grows in short rosettes close to the ground, and in its second year, burdock grows large (up to 2 feet long) stem leaves resembling elephant ears as well as characteristic pink or lavender thistles.  The plant flowers from mid-summer to early fall (great pics here).  Burdock gets its name from the fruits it produces which are burs covered in fine spines which promote dispersal by attaching to animal fur or human clothing.  Burs such as those found on burdock are so good at attaching to passing organisms that they were the inspiration for Velcro!

Lesser burdock photo courtesy of http://www.english-country-garden.com

Lesser burdock hails from Europe and was likely an accidental release in North America.  The propensity for burdock fruits to disperse quickly across the landscape as hitchhikers contributes to its invasive status.  Also, burdock is a nuisance to grazing livestock and other native animals, as the burs can irritate the eyes and digestive tract.

North American distribution of lesser burdock; States/Provinces with lesser burdock records indicated in green. Map courtesy of plants.usda.gov

Although the leaves of burdock are bitter, the starchy taproot is sweet and, when thinly sliced, makes a good addition to soups and stews.  Famed forager “Wildman” Steve Brill provides information on collecting and cooking burdock here, and we also recommend you check out this short instructional video from the Wildman on YouTube.

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