Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography


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Sandbur Seed Head 0621

Yesterday’s photograph of strangely spiky galls at Illinois Beach State Park suddenly reminded me this morning of something spiky that’s common in Austin but that I’ve somehow never shown you in these pages. It’s Cenchrus spinifex, a native grass known as sandbur and bur grass. What’s common to those two common names is the bur, and in this June 30th photograph from Great Hills Park you can see how sharp the burs on the seed heads of this grass are. Ouch.

© 2016 Steven Schwartzman


Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 28, 2016 at 5:31 AM

Posted in nature photography

Tagged with , , , , , ,

37 Responses

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  1. Another lethal weapon.


    July 28, 2016 at 5:52 AM

  2. I’ve heard Cenchrus spinifex called by other names: many of which aren’t suitable for a family-friendly blog. If my shoelaces and socks are any indication, it’s been as good a year for this grass as for any flower. Funny, how much more attractive they seem in your photo.


    July 28, 2016 at 5:55 AM

    • Giving me an attractive picture is the least this grass can do to compensate for all the times I’ve had to deal with its burs in my clothing or, worse, my skin. As you know, I carry a protective pad with me that I can lie down on to take pictures, but when sandburs are around I have the secondary problem of getting the burs out of the pad.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 28, 2016 at 6:02 AM

  3. http://www.hear.org/pier/imagepages/singles/vchr_bish_649452.htm This photo looks like the sandburs that terrorized my childhood.


    July 28, 2016 at 6:04 AM

  4. Steven: Great capture of one, tough customer.


    July 28, 2016 at 6:29 AM

  5. We had sand spurs, I’d guess a similar grass, in Alabama-the bane of my childhood ramblings barefooted or flipflopped.


    July 28, 2016 at 7:09 AM

    • From what I’ve found online, it seems that what you had in Alabama was the related species Cenchrus echinatus. I’ve not heard the name sand spurs till now, but spurs are as good as burs to describe these spiky things.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 28, 2016 at 7:34 AM

  6. Sandburs and their ilk rank high in Sock Removal Difficulty Units (SRDU) according to this site. http://waynesword.palomar.edu/plmay98.htm

    Jim Ruebush

    July 28, 2016 at 8:14 AM

    • SRDU: what a great concept. I see there’s a caveat at the end of the table: “Ranking & SRDUs are purely hypothetical without any quantitative data to support them.” Now there’s an opening for an enterprising graduate student in need of a thesis topic.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 28, 2016 at 8:23 AM

      • Did you notice some of the close-ups of the barb ends. They are worse than fish hooks. Ouch!

        Jim Ruebush

        July 28, 2016 at 8:27 AM

        • Ouch indeed. Farther down on the page is a picture of jumping cholla, a closely related species of which I experienced in the Southwest two years ago:


          I’ve had little experience with fishhooks but plenty with clinging plants.

          Steve Schwartzman

          July 28, 2016 at 8:35 AM

          • A plant with the same sort of “hooks” turns out to have been the inspiration for velcro. The SRDU is funny — but of course there’s another approach. I found a resale shop down the street that sells perfectly acceptable heavy socks for ten cents per pair. At that price, bur-laden socks can be worn a few times and then disposed of. A sock budget of twenty cents a month isn’t bad, especially when there still are the shoelaces to be dealt with.

            A friend with a backyard full of sandburs and a fuzzy little dog found a good, environmentally safe way to deal with the situation. As the burs are forming, she drags a burlap bag over the yard. It’s amazing how many the bag will pick up, and how few she has to pluck from her dog’s fur.


            July 28, 2016 at 7:54 PM

            • The SRDU is funny indeed. I didn’t know about it but did know the origin of Velcro, which I learned a long time ago when investigating some native plant or other. It could well have been the cocklebur, and years later, when I showed that plant’s seed heads in a post,


              I mentioned the creation of Velcro as an imitation from nature.

              Heavy socks for 10¢ a pair: wow, you’ve found yourself a time machine.

              I hope your friend publicizes her method of gathering up sandburs before they can do a lot of damage.

              Steve Schwartzman

              July 28, 2016 at 8:11 PM

  7. Fantastic picture, but I still don’t like those d*** stickers! 😉 Luckily, we have way fewer here than we used to have in the old place in Karnes City. But still there are too many in our lawn, 😦
    Have a great day,


    July 28, 2016 at 8:44 AM

    • I’m sorry to hear that you know about these first-hand. I’ve dealt with my share in Austin, so the least the plant can give me in return is a good photograph.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 28, 2016 at 11:04 AM

  8. I don’t know which species of Cenchrus we had in the Lower Rio Grande Valley when I was young, but we called them “stickerburs”! They were everywhere!

    Judy T

    July 28, 2016 at 9:29 AM

    • You’re not alone. So far this morning I’ve heard from people who experienced “stickerburs” in Texas, Alabama, and even Fiji.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 28, 2016 at 11:15 AM

  9. Excellent photo!

    Roland Theys

    July 28, 2016 at 10:43 AM

  10. Yep that looks like an ouch!


    July 28, 2016 at 1:56 PM

  11. Nice.


    July 29, 2016 at 5:32 AM

  12. They do look formidable. I hope the tips don’t contain anything irritating like the stinging nettle.

    Steve Gingold

    July 30, 2016 at 2:36 PM

  13. Ouch! I do remember this little beast of a plant from our trips to Texas. Quite elegant looking, but still.


    August 18, 2016 at 9:05 AM

    • This is definitely one of those look-but-do-not-touch plants. Unfortunately it has a way of getting into clothing and then touching people who’d rather not be touched.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 18, 2016 at 9:12 AM

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