Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Sandbur doing its thing

with 30 comments

While some might say the droplets of dew on this sandbur soften the image, no amount of dew can soften the pain if Cenchrus spinifex‘s barbs get into your skin, which they have an uncanny predilection for doing. As Jim Conrad explains, this grass is “abundantly armored with stiff, very sharp spines which themselves are mantled with minute, backward-pointing spines. When a sandbur punctures your skin, because of those backward-pointing spines, pulling it out becomes a miserable experience. If you’re not thinking, when you realize the bur is resisting being pulled out, you squeeze it harder to get a better grip, and end up with stuck fingers, and with those backward-pointing spines on the spines, there’s simply no nice way of getting unstuck.”

I took this picture near the Sierra Nevada entrance to Great Hills Park on June 25th. I’ve had to deal with sandburs in several other places since then.

Unrelated thought for today: “Any maniac can kindle a conflagration, but it requires many wise men to put it out.” — Charles MacKay in Memoirs of Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds, first published in 1841.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 1, 2020 at 4:44 AM

Posted in nature photography

Tagged with , ,

30 Responses

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  1. Sounds like a miserable character, wow really gets its teeth into you.

    Robert Parker

    August 1, 2020 at 6:54 AM

    • The most common clinging nuisance in nature here is the non-native Torilis arvensis, whose little dried seed capsules get stuck in sometimes large numbers on socks and pants and shoelaces. At least those aren’t normally painful. I wish I could say the same for sandburs.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 1, 2020 at 7:52 AM

  2. I’m happy to say I’ve never met up with a Sandbur! I love the patterns on the leaf covering the burs. It’s very abstractish with the lines, circes, and variations of yellow and green.

    That thought is so true!


    August 1, 2020 at 8:09 AM

    • And I’m sorry to say I’ve met up with my share of sandburs, as recently as this past week. What attracted me to this sandbur was that I’d never seen one with dew on it before. As you say, the rounded dewdrops interacted appealingly with the parallel lines in the leaf; that, plus the color variation, made for an “abstractish” view. And yes, the quotation rings true.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 1, 2020 at 8:16 AM

  3. They are such innocuous looking plants I forget they are here until too late! Your photo of it is deceptively delightful! My poor little dog got a face full of these awful burs once and we spent over an hour, me trying to gently pull them out while he valiantly didn’t squirm or fight.

    I’m enjoying the pointed quotes you’ve been adding. Very pithy for a mild-mannered photographer!


    August 1, 2020 at 8:26 AM

    • “Deceptively delightful” is an interesting way to put it. At least by not being a dog I’ve never gotten sandburs in my face; they’ve most often ended up in my fingertips when I’ve removed them from shoes or shoelaces or pants.

      It’s good to hear you’re enjoying the quotations that mild-mannered me has been adding. America’s been a crazy place lately.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 1, 2020 at 2:58 PM

      • It sure has.


        August 3, 2020 at 9:20 AM

  4. On the photo, the sandbur looks harmless but the thought of getting the spines under my skin makes me shiver.

    Peter Klopp

    August 1, 2020 at 8:27 AM

    • Yeah, sandburs are no fun when they get in your skin. They do, however, make good subjects to photograph.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 1, 2020 at 2:59 PM

  5. Goodness, what a nuisance all burs are! Just yesterday I found myself hand pulling a few of these very burs from several areas of our yard. In the pasture and in the orchard there are areas we may never be able to eradicate these invasive burs. It is interesting how various burs come under different names regionally. I’m no expert on names other than the local names given. Your photo shows what we call a grass bur. A sand bur here and in Nebraska is a larger bur and more round in shape. We see huge areas of both grass burs and sand burs, and then there are the goat head burs, and of course the “soft” burs that cling to clothes and are difficult to remove. Tukker deer comes home with Biden and cockleburs all over his hide. He doesn’t seem as bothered by them as I am!

    I have to hand it to you, your images show me a better perspective than what I drum up in my head sometimes! I am no lover of burs of any kind, but your photo boasts a healthy, green bur. Just wait until it dries and the bur gets hard. They are even more painful to get jabbed with!!


    August 1, 2020 at 8:54 AM

    • Ah, a presidential election year: I think you meant Bidens rather than Biden!

      Sandburs also go by the name grass burs here, which is appropriate because the plant is a grass. Of course, no matter what you call the burs, they sure are a nuisance—especially, as you say, when they dry. I’m sorry to hear you have so many of them in your pasture and orchard. The small soft burs that abound in central Texas are Torilis arvensis, an invasive from Eurasia called hedge parsley; I see Wikipedia also includes a name I haven’t heard before: tall sock-destroyer. I sure get a lot of them on my socks, shoelaces, and pants. We also have cockleburs here, which are native, but they’re not all that common.

      And yes, a macro lens reveals a lot of details we wouldn’t see with our eyes alone. I use my macro lens more than any other lens I have. On some outings it’s the only lens I end up using.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 1, 2020 at 6:29 PM

      • I thought Biden was plural for the plant. And good heavens, if Tukker brought Joe Biden home with him, I wouldn’t be any too happy. But just for fun, I might tell Mr. Biden to leave, taking passage through the orchard by following the slough to the main road. By then he’d be covered in Biden/Bidens, and Tukker would certainly be getting a lecture about finding better company to keep!

        Aside from that subject, hedge parsley can be found here too. All burs be they hard or soft, are no friend to our clothing. I use the BurzOff tool from Duluth Trading Company to help with bur removal. It works fairly well getting most of the burs off clothing.


        August 2, 2020 at 2:57 PM

      • I thought Biden was plural – we have them everywhere and I haven’t seen any wildlife that eats
        Aside from that subject, hedge parsley can be found here too. All burs be they hard or soft, are no friend to our clothing.


        August 2, 2020 at 7:40 PM

        • The genus name Bidens is made up of two Latin words: bi ‘two’ and dens ‘tooth.’ Whoever invented the name would have done better to use the Latin plural, dentes (which includes the t that we have in our borrowed words dental and dentist). I’m sorry to hear you’ve also got hedge parsley in your prickly domain. I’ve never heard of the BurzOff tool; Duluth Trading Company will be happy with your endorsement.

          Steve Schwartzman

          August 3, 2020 at 6:40 AM

  6. Thanks for the tip. I’m going to stay away. And your thought for the day is very pointed.

    Michael Scandling

    August 1, 2020 at 3:28 PM

  7. I’ve had numerous unpleasant experiences with these puppies in my time as well, and I remember them all too well. I read with interest Melissa’s experience with her dog, and I’m happy to say that I haven’t had occasion to share that misfortune, although I could certainly relate some horror stories regarding close encounters with porcupines.


    August 2, 2020 at 5:57 AM

    • “Puppies” is an ironic word, considering their softness and the sandburs’ anything-but-softness.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 2, 2020 at 7:47 AM

      • You’re quite right; I’d likely have been more on the mark if I’d referred to them as “beasties.”


        August 2, 2020 at 10:19 PM

  8. The combination of the dew and the multiple shades of green make for an appealing photo. Like you, I can’t say I’m particularly fond of the plant. I’ve had too many personal encounters. Like dewberry vines, it’s especially dangerous in places where mowing occurs, like open areas of the refuges. It’s less noticeable then, because shorter, but it always provides a sharp reminder to look before I sit.


    August 2, 2020 at 8:38 AM

    • A sharp (and clever) reminder indeed. I don’t remember ever sitting on one. Most often I’ve had to pick them out of my shoelaces or the bottoms of my shoes, and also out of the rubber mat I carry around with me to lie and kneel on.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 2, 2020 at 8:43 AM

      • Every time I sit on them, I think of that mat you carry. Some day I may start toting one, but for now I’ll just try to remember to look sharp.


        August 2, 2020 at 8:45 AM

  9. I think that the sand bur or sandspur or whatever folks call it, is the unofficial state grass of Florida. It grows in limestone soil, sometimes where nothing else will, and where I grew up, there wasn’t much besides mangroves and sand burs. The first creating land in shallow waters, the other populating the coral and limestone dredged up from shallow waters by shallow minds. Thanks for the trip down memory lane.


    August 2, 2020 at 10:08 AM

    • If this spiky thing is any kind of state grass, you’d better believe it’s unofficial. Mangroves and sandburs: now there’s a combination I’d never have thought of, nor would I have imagined your trip down memory lane, which seems to have been a happy one.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 3, 2020 at 6:22 AM

  10. I like the framing of the leaves. I doubt there’ll be as many colorful character as Jim Conrad in the years to come. I read he was trying to give away his web site.


    August 3, 2020 at 3:32 PM

    • I’m glad you like the framing that leaves parts of those two leaves which are perpendicular to each other.

      I wasn’t really familiar with Jim Conrad. When I went searching for more information about sandburs I came across the passage of his that I quoted. As for the change his life took in 2019, here’s what he said about it:


      Steve Schwartzman

      August 3, 2020 at 3:49 PM

      • Well, I tried looking for the page about giving away the website but couldn’t find it anywhere anymore. Maybe he’s going to continue after all.


        August 3, 2020 at 5:05 PM

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