Spanish Needle

Reading Time: 4 minutes

“I don’t understand what the bees forage off of down here.”

Neil is walking through the pasture, I’m keeping up with him wondering if I should attempt an answer. I don’t necessarily have one but I’d attempt one just to stay in the conversation. The mild gulf coast weather has made the grass green all the way into late November. But Neil is bemoaning the fact that our pasture and all the ones around us are thatched over with bahia. Bahia is a hardy perennial grass that loves the farm’s sandy loam. It’s good for cattle. Not so much for pollinators be they honey ones or otherwise.

“In Arkansas we had stands and stands of goldenrod and Spanish needle, clover and thistles. Golden and I would put the hives out on acres and acres of wildflowers from spring through fall.” He’s shaking his head. He’s remembering back decades ago, to his teenage years and what fields around our home looked like. I think back too. It seems things were wilder then.

Everything is more managed now.

Stumbling a bit over the gopher holes riddling the ground of the pasture, I don’t fall and Neil shakes his head.

“Do you ever where anything but flipflops, Jan.” It’s hard to know if that was said with more exasperation, resignation, or brotherly derision.

“I can feel the gophers vibrating as they are digging when I wear flipfops”.

“Really, Jan.” This makes me smile big because that definitely irritated him.


Brother/sister interaction.



But the gophers are vibrating the soil in ways that make Ellie, my very old black lab curious. Even at her age she considers tracking their buzzing through the soil getting her snout all dirty and sneezy.

“I just don’t get it,” Neil says again.

“What is Spanish Needle?” I ask.

He sort of explains but nothing about his description strikes me as particularly interesting. We are 6 years apart in age so Neil and I don’t share the exact same context or experience growing up and it appears that Spanish Needle means a whole lot more to him than it does to me.

“Oh well,” he says, as we finish up our on foot survey, “they are finding something I guess.”

A couple of weeks later I decide to tackle the flowerbeds just north of the pasture and the bees. All dead and dry, I don’t even recognize what may have produced the thin, fine branches that are at least five foot tall.


As I am pulling and tossing, sort of in a mad rush as I am wont to do everything I do, stomping around in the forest of fine branched weeds, there is a … well, prickling of sorts going on under my arms, across my back, and down my legs. Not exactly painful, you understand, but certainly noticeable in an uncomfortable way.

Hardly expecting anything much, I glance down.

To see this:

and up closer there is this:

I’ve had beggar lice and cockle burrs, but I’d never seen anything like this. What the heck was it. And how do you get it off?

The good thing about a farm is that you can go topless even at my age so that you can meticulously pick all of the dad blasted things that had lodged themselves in every bit of clothing you have on.

Once I got them off and I got back home to google, nothing I searched for indicated what the heck these things were.

You figured it out?

“It looks like you’ve had a run in with Spanish Needle Begger Ticks (Bidens bipinnata). They are a non-native weed from Asia that grows quite happily across North America. There are some reports that this plant is edible but I haven’t confirmed this across multiple, reliable sources.


(Merriwether is the Texas equivalent to Euell Gibbons. But better.. because you know.. Texas. And I did not reply to his email and tell him that I had zero intentions of field testing their edibility. I mean who would try to eat this stuff…)

Let’s just hope that all of the thin little branches I tossed over the split rail fence to land in the Bahai some how take root. And next fall, Spanish Needle starts to make a stand in our pasture. I for one can attest to how incredible Nature has been in giving that plant the wherewithal to spread itself around.

“Really,” Neil said, the next time he came down to the farm. “I guess I never saw them in any state other than blooming and bees all over them.”

Yeah. Spanish Needle. I like it. I liked everything about it. Well, except the pricking part.

Bees, you so gonna be happy  in 2018.

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