Hackelia virginiana (Virginia Stickseed)

Plant Info
Also known as: Beggar's-lice, Sticktight
Genus:Hackelia
Family:Boraginaceae (Borage)
Life cycle:annual, biennial
Origin:native
Habitat:part shade, shade; upland woods, thickets
Bloom season:June - August
Plant height:2 to 3 feet
Wetland Indicator Status:GP: FACU MW: FACU NCNE: FACU
MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):Minnesota county distribution map
National distribution (click map to enlarge):National distribution map

Pick an image for a larger view. See the glossary for icon descriptions.

Detailed Information

Flower: Flower shape: 5-petals Cluster type: raceme

[photo of flowres] The white to pale blue flowers are tiny, saucer-shaped to tubular, around 1/8 inch across with five round petals and a ring of arch-shaped appendages around the throat. Shorter, narrow, lance-like sepals, usually longer than the floral tube, alternate with the petals. The blossoms open progressively along slender, horizontal racemes at the tips of the branches; racemes elongate up to 6 inches as the plant matures. A larger leaf-like bract is set at the base of the raceme with subsequent bracts becoming smaller and alternating with the flowers until about the middle of the raceme; beyond the middle they become minute or missing.

Leaves and stems: Leaf attachment: alternate Leaf attachment: basal Leaf type: simple

[photo of leaves] Leaves are alternate, toothless and thin, with a soft texture from short hairs. Basal leaves are stalked, oblong to oval with a rounded tip, withering away before the plant starts to bloom. The stem leaves are broadly lance-elliptic, tapered sharply on both ends, up to 8 inches long and 1 to 4 inches wide, the lower leaves short stalked, upper leaves becoming progressively smaller and stalkless. Stems are stout and erect, typically single but much branched, with short soft hairs throughout both stems and leaves.

Fruit: Fruit type: barbed Fruit type: capsule/pod

[photo of fruit] Fruits are round, wider than the flower but less than ¼ inch in diameter, divided into four nutlets with dense velcro-like prickles covering the outer surfaces.

Notes:

It is doubtful anyone has taken many autumn walks in the woods without sooner or later ending up with a kazillion of these sticky seeds on their legs or socks as well as their pet's hair. H. virginiana has a very similar native look-a-like: H. deflexa (Nodding Stickseed) that differs only in having more slender and smaller leaves, roughly hairy rather than softly hairy, and the sticky prickles on the fruit are arranged only along the edges of each nutlet. An obsolete Latin name for Virginia Stickseed is Lappula virginiana.

Please visit our sponsors

  • Wild Ones Twin Cities Chapter

Where to buy native seed and plants ↓

Map of native plant purveyors in the upper midwest

  • Natural Shore Technologies - Using science to improve land and water
  • Itasca Ladyslipper Farm - Native orchids, container grown
  • Prairie Restorations - Bringing people together with the land
  • Landscape Alternatives - Distinctive Native Plants since 1986!
  • Shop for native seeds and plants at PrairieMoon.com!

More photos

Photos by K. Chayka taken in Ramsey County. Photos courtesy Peter M. Dziuk taken in Ramsey County.

Comments

Have you seen this plant in Minnesota, or have any other comments about it?

Posted by: bruce - MINNETONKA MN
on: 2014-07-20 13:47:33

First experience was rescuing a baby robin from the burr mass. This plant is often gnarled looking from some fungus perhaps. Unattractive and a nuisance. I try to preserve most natives in my woods, but this one I dislike very much.

Posted by: Janice - Roseville
on: 2014-07-20 14:47:55

I discovered this plant several years ago, but did not know its name til this month (with help from the Ramsey Co. Master Gardeners). I have been trying to eradicate it in my woody yard and surrounding park land, but it seems to be increasing on a geometric scale. I have pulled about a thousand plants in this area of Roseville this spring and summer.I dislike this plant as much as Bruce. Don't know if it is possible to keep it in check: there are cats, dogs,deer, foxes and other wildlife roaming this area.

Posted by: Kristin - Elk River
on: 2014-08-15 08:02:24

This plant seems to have some sort of white fungus which causes the plant to wilt and turn dark brown.

Posted by: Melissa - New Brighton
on: 2014-09-06 22:41:21

We have these everywhere. I discovered that they have use! Hope this helps. Link included.

"Virginia stickseed inhabits moist deciduous forests, usually in areas of high-pH substrate. It was important in Cherokee herbal medicine. The crushed roots were mixed with bear oil and used to treat skin cancers, a tea of the plant was used to treat kidney conditions and improve memory, and the plant was used in love charms."
Cited from: https://gobotany.newenglandwild.org/species/hackelia/virginiana/

Posted by: Rodney - Albert Lea
on: 2014-09-17 15:50:22

Had this start growing in a spirea and native seeded flower bed. Did not know what it was until found it today. The sticky seed part what made me think it was not something in the wildflower seed. Stuck to pants, shoes and socks and is hard to remove.

Posted by: Paul - Lake Elmo, Washington County
on: 2017-07-22 08:00:16

We have a lot in a bed of bee balm - very invasive and annoying!

Posted by: Naomi J - south Minneapolis
on: 2017-07-28 17:49:58

I have a plant that looks very much like Virginia stickseed but has opposite rather than alternating leaves. How can I find out what it is?

Posted by: K. Chayka
on: 2017-07-28 21:04:22

Naomi, you can try using the advanced search page or post photos on our Facebook page.

Posted by: Thom
on: 2018-07-09 19:59:13

I have been pulling this up in our small woods for years and it come back every year, probably with help from the deer. This year I am on the patrol before it goes to seed!

Posted by: Bill Brown - Grant
on: 2019-07-15 12:03:22

In year 2 of a woodland restoration, despite some equivocation, this is the only native I've targeted so far. It takes up a fair volume of space and is quite prolific in sunnier areas of disturbance. It'd be alright with me if I never have to pick those little brown seeds from my clothes or pets again. Please let me know if I'm wrong, if it actually makes a unique contribution to my local native plant community, or if it's not worth the effort to remove because it will eventually be out competed by other natives.

Posted by: K. Chayka
on: 2019-07-15 14:51:04

Bill, I am not aware of any special relationship between Hackelia and any sort of wildlife. I suspect its main reason for existence is to madden people such as myself who venture unwittingly into its lair. If it were in my garden I'd do away with it in a heartbeat. If it were in a natural area not subject to frequent human traffic I'd leave it be.

Posted by: Alice Leber Cook - Minneapolis
on: 2019-09-10 23:26:04

I've had the same garden for ten years, but this plant has only begun to appear for the last three. I've done everything I can to remove it-digging up with a shovel every branch, stem, and "seed" possible. What can I do to remove it permanently?

Posted by: Joan C - North central Otter Tail County
on: 2020-04-15 14:40:29

This weed has been a problem in my re-growth woods for decades. I'm surprised my location isn't mentioned on the map. It gets into my dogs' fur, not to mention of course sticking on my clothes. I have definitely decreased its numbers by aggressively combing those woods in the spring and pulling up every plant I can find, since I now know what it looks like before it goes to flower. It does behave like an annual. I don't expect eradication, but I do hope for control, at least for my own lifetime.

Posted by: Rita Johnson - elk river
on: 2020-04-19 23:03:55

I first encountered this plant growing among the lilac hedge on our property. We pulled each individual plant out and it has not come back. We recently discovered more plants growing among evergreens in another area of our property. We are in the process of removing it as we did previously. It's an awful nuisance and very messy to remove.

Posted by: Janet Lovell-Simons - Ste. Agathe
on: 2020-06-25 13:50:11

I'm a neighbour just to the North... Ste. Agathe, Manitoba and I would like to thank you for this information. I am pretty certain the plant I was trying to identify is the same, or at least a near kin. All will help to research if it may be utilized beyond composting. Again, Thank You!

Posted by: Nancy Docherty - Stillwater
on: 2020-07-06 20:40:17

I have been pulling it out of natural areas of Bergamot, vervain, grey coneflower etc. It caused an stinging rash on my arms. I don't get poison ivy, not prone to skin sensitivity. Do others find it is an irritant? Neither my dog nor I like the sticky seed.

Posted by: Cheryl Brinkley - Brooklyn Center
on: 2020-07-11 10:50:08

Finally, an identification! This plant began appearing last year in my semi-wild bee and butterfly gardens. Early in the season I confuse it with wild phlox (Dame's rockets), which I like to encourage. I'd like to be able to identify it when young. Yes, I get skin irritation from this plant. I don't react to poison ivy, but am sensitive to many plants (even green beans). Dermatologist gave me a strong cortesone cream for this one. Wearing long sleeves and gloves to pull it out, I still managed to get a rash on briefly exposed wrists and side of my neck. Not terrible, but annoying. Cover up!

Posted by: K. Chayka
on: 2020-07-11 12:41:57

Cheryl, I beg you, please do not encourage dame's rocket. It may be pretty but is not a wild phlox, just a horrible invasive species in the mustard family. Why not plant native phlox instead?

Posted by: Janice Daire - Roseville
on: 2020-07-17 17:45:44

I found out the name of stickseed in 2014 and I was trying to eradicate it from my yard and adjacent park.That year I pulled about 1000 plants. It's considered native and not invasive in Minnesota. I say it definitely has the feel of being invasive. A "restoration" of our park 2 years ago led to a huge increase in this nasty plant. So far this year I personally have pulled over 7000 stickseed and it is not yet controlled. A crew was here yesterday spraying to get rid of invasives like buckthorn and honeysuckle: they don't touch "native" plants.

Posted by: K. Chayka
on: 2020-07-17 18:17:16

Janice, I would call stickseed an opportunistic plant. It does well in disturbed soil, which a restoration certainly creates. It just takes advantage, much like weeds do.

Posted by: Margaret Cahir - Saint Paul
on: 2020-07-19 09:00:52

I've been battling this weed in my yard for about 10 to 15 years. It's been difficult to search for the name, plant ID sites did not do the job. Finally searched for "plants with burrs in Minnesota" and luckily landed here.

Learn to identify this plant while young, because by the time the burrs are on there, anything you wear while removing will be ruined, especially any fleece or lycra; maybe even your garden gloves. It's actually an attractive plant while developing, but once the burrs are there, it is impossible to be around. I just removed some that were 3-4' tall and the burrs are forming, so had to use my bare arms. At least they pull up easily in damp soil. If you want them out this season, do not delay!

Posted by: Amanda - Minnetonka
on: 2020-07-20 14:12:43

I have been seeing this plant with a white fungus that seems to wilt the plant and turn leaves brown. I am interested seeing if it can be used to control larger monoculture areas.

Posted by: Birdlandbill - Olmsted Cty Oronoco Township
on: 2020-07-29 06:56:39

Been pulling, stripping burrs into a plastic swimming pool I carry around with me, leaving the stalk and most leaves where I pull 'em. The bigger (4-6 ft) plants have ~ 1500 burrs. I'm pulling ~ 500/d on 10 acres of buckthorn-infested (I'm taking care of these, as well) woodland. Hard going with other plants about. Not listed as present in Olmsted Cty. Will see if there is any favorable impact in years to come. There is already one. Wife, dog and I can walk on property w/o burr coating. Know it's native, but it is prolific and increasing on our distressed property. I do the same thing with Gooseberry and prickly ash. A bit is nice. Prolific not so much. Wondering if each burr (nutlet) contains one or more than one seed.

Posted by: K. Chayka
on: 2020-07-29 07:19:47

Birdlandbill, I haven't heard of this species reaching heights of 6 feet. If your ID is correct, that would be a picture worth getting.

Posted by: Liz - Ramsey
on: 2020-08-05 11:27:58

I just want to say that I truly despise this plant and I finally was able to identify the name. We have this growing under and around our cedar trees which borders our large lot. I have a golden retriever, so if you can imagine what she looks like after hunting around those trees. I am going to find everyone one of them and pull them out and burn baby burn. FYI, coconut oil helps big time in the removal of the stickers from pets and clothes.

Posted by: Kim Culbertson - Minneapolis
on: 2020-08-07 18:46:09

What a terrific find! You've identified the stickseed plant that I noticed in my garden this year. I wondered where/how I was getting burs in my clothes and hair, and then after learning that it causes skin irritation, it all made sense. I don't know the first thing about gardening or botany, but I could not figure out for the life of me where my patch of poison ivy was living. I'm yanking this plant out as soon as it rains. Thanks again!

Posted by: margaret merkow - long lake
on: 2020-08-08 21:13:14

I have a lot of this in my woods about 1 acre. I am pulling all the mature plants (easily ID with wilted dark leaves and many horizontal stems with a lot of green seeds) I am drying them out on a tarp and going to burn them. They seem to grow in groves. Wear a regular cotton shirt and pants-not a tee shirt when pulling them. Remove seeds from socks with a tweezers. (They do not wash off in the washing machine). Good luck everyone. This is a big job to get rid of this. My main motivation is to save any animals that pass through the agony of having these seeds stick to their fur.

Posted by: Nora Vrakas - Delafield, WI
on: 2020-08-25 11:50:03

I just saw four deer walk through my priairie and they were green with this weed! All my efforts to pull it out have likely now been thwarted. Great to read all the comments - mysery loves company?

Posted by: Constance Pepin - Roberts Bird Sanctuary, Lyndale Park, Minneapolis
on: 2020-09-28 20:36:07

2020 was a great year for this plant in Roberts Bird Sanctuary, but several birds and dragonflies needed to be rescued when they became entrapped by the burs, so volunteers worked to reduce the risk by identifying and removing dangerous patches.

Posted by: Jeff Carter - Savage
on: 2020-11-01 10:17:13

I want to join the campaign to eradicate/mitigate this plant where I live; any idea of most likely flowering time to find and pull plants?

Posted by: K. Chayka
on: 2020-11-01 15:08:54

Jeff, look at the Plant Info above to see when it blooms. Peak time is typically around the middle of the range.

Post a comment

Note: All comments are moderated before posting to keep the riff-raff out. An email address is required, but will not be posted—it will only be used for information exchange between the 2 of us (if needed) and will never be given to a 3rd party without your express permission.

For info on subjects other than plant identification (gardening, invasive species control, edible plants, etc.), please check the links and invasive species pages for additional resources.



(required)




Note: Comments or information about plants outside of Minnesota and neighboring states may not be posted because Id like to keep the focus of this web site centered on Minnesota. Thanks for your understanding.