Spanish Needle Control: Tips On Managing Spanish Needle Weeds


By: Mary H. Dyer, Credentialed Garden Writer

What is Spanish needle? Although Spanish needle plant (Bidens bipinnata) is native to Florida and other tropical climates, it has naturalized and become a major pest across much of the United States. Spanish needle weeds aren’t all bad; the plants display attractive foliage and tiny yellow-centered white flowers that attract honeybees, butterflies and other beneficial insects.

The downside is that the plant is extremely aggressive and produces needle-like seeds that cling to everything they touch, including hair, fabric and fur. When you consider that one plant can produce 1,000 prickly seeds, you can understand why Spanish needle plant isn’t a welcome visitor in most gardens. If this sounds familiar, keep reading to learn about Spanish needle control.

Controlling Spanish Needles

Young Spanish needle weeds aren’t difficult to pull when the ground is moist, and unless you have a huge infestation, hand-pulling is the most effective and safest solution. Work carefully and use a shovel or spade, if necessary, to get the long, tough taproot. The key to success is to pull the weeds before they have a chance to go to seed – either before the plant blooms or shortly after – but always before the blooms wilt.

Don’t expect to eradicate Spanish needle plant at first try. Keep pulling the seedlings when they are young and tender; you’ll eventually gain the upper hand.

If you have a large infestation, mow the plants periodically so they have no opportunity to develop flowers and go to seed. You can also gain Spanish needle control by spraying individual plants with products containing glyphosate.

Alternatively, spray large infestations with a herbicide that kills broad-leaf weeds, such as 2,4-D. Keep in mind that due to high toxicity and dangers to people, animals and the environment, herbicides should always be a last resort.

Note: Any recommendations pertaining to the use of chemicals are for informational purposes only. Specific brand names or commercial products or services do not imply endorsement. Chemical control should only be used as a last resort, as organic approaches are safer and more environmentally friendly.

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Survival Plant Profile: Shepherd’s Needle

Wait – is Shepherd’s needle edible.

Yep. Though that fact isn’t widely known. In fact, most people probably don’t even know the name of this common Florida weed.

Never heard of Shepherd’s Needle? That probably doesn’t stop it from invading your yard, spreading hundreds of seedlings across tilled ground and sending its seeds hitchhiking on your socks.

Shepherd’s Needle, Latin name Bidens alba, is an amazing weed that looks like a little daisy. The plants grow 2-4′ or so and will spread from springtime until the frosts knock them back to the ground.

However, like many weeds, this plant is a resource in disguise. Even if you can’t manage to grow spinach, cauliflower or a bean without holes in it, you can grow this thing (though most people fight to KEEP it from growing) – and the leaves are edible. It’s easy to find growing along roadsides, in fields and any place there’s a sunny spot and some disturbed ground.

A faux-vintage blurry fake colorized bee!

Behind my house is a three acre lot that gets bush-hogged a couple times a year. There the Shepherd’s Needle plants proliferate like… well… weeds. And that’s a good thing, since not only are the leaves edible – the blossoms are a solid nectar source for bees for about half the year. They also draw in lots of butterflies, moths and other pollinators. I intentionally leave patches growing in unused areas of my yard, just for the life they bring in.

The parts that like socks.

Though you couldn’t subsist on them alone, the leaves are reportedly high in nutrients. They also stir-fry quite well and are good in salads and omelets. By themselves, they’re a bit grassy-tasting, but mixed with other greens or sauteed, they’re delicious. Just watch your socks when you pick them.

Next time you find some growing in your yard – and provided they’re not too near your garden beds – leave a few. The bees will thank you. And your palate might not mind either. In terms of a survival green, it’s hard to beat one that’s healthy, easy-to-find, prolific and basically unknown.

And a look at Bidens alba by Green Deane at www.eattheweeds.com.

Name: Shepherd’s needle
Latin Name: Bidens alba
Type: Herbaceous perennial/annual
Nitrogen Fixer: No
Medicinal: No
Cold-hardy: No
Exposure: Full sun/part shade
Part Used: Leaves
Propagation: Seed
Taste: Good
Method of preparation: Leaves raw, cooked, dried, sauteed.
Storability: Poor fresh. Easy to dry.
Ease of growing: Way too easy.
Nutrition: Very good
Recognizability: Low
Availability: Very high


Bidens Species, Butterfly Needles, Hairy Beggarticks, Spanish Needle

Category:

Water Requirements:

Average Water Needs Water regularly do not overwater

Sun Exposure:

Foliage:

Foliage Color:

Height:

Spacing:

Hardiness:

Where to Grow:

Danger:

Bloom Color:

Bloom Characteristics:

Bloom Size:

Bloom Time:

Other details:

May be a noxious weed or invasive

Soil pH requirements:

Patent Information:

Propagation Methods:

From herbaceous stem cuttings

From semi-hardwood cuttings

From seed direct sow outdoors in fall

From seed winter sow in vented containers, coldframe or unheated greenhouse

Direct sow as soon as the ground can be worked

From seed sow indoors before last frost

From seed direct sow after last frost

From seed germinate in a damp paper towel

From seed germinate in vitro in gelatin, agar or other medium

Seed Collecting:

Bag seedheads to capture ripening seed

Collect seedhead/pod when flowers fade allow to dry

Allow seedheads to dry on plants remove and collect seeds

Regional

This plant is said to grow outdoors in the following regions:

Gardeners' Notes:

On Sep 30, 2015, janelp_lee from Toronto, ON (Zone 6a) wrote:

The true Bidens pilosa does not have white flower petals at all. The ones with small or big white flower petals are either hybrid with Bidens alba or Bidens alba.

On Oct 5, 2013, schenevus from Spring Hill, FL wrote:

Spanish Needle nothing but a weed in my yard. Hate to have to pull it all the time. Gets on my clothes and in dog's hair. Pretty little bloom elsewhere.

On Aug 26, 2008, losmilagros from Loxahatchee, FL wrote:

Under control,is great add for dishes.You can use like any green.Good source of Iron.Even is a part of a big research again the Leukemia.

On May 22, 2007, Campfiredan from Alachua, FL (Zone 8b) wrote:

This one grows all over the place in my neighborhood and when the little sticky seeds get into your socks it can be a pain. But the boiled greens are delicious and a small amount of the tenderest new growth is a tasty spicy addition to salads. I am spreading it around in my "lawn" (more by neglect than by seeding). It is a weed in the fields of a farmer friend of mine and rather than curse at it he actually sells it in the local farmers market where people pay good money for it as greens -- they probably pull it up every week from their yards and then go pay for it at the market. Per 100 gm serving it contains 2.8 gms of protein, 111 mg of calcium, and 2.3 mg of iron. Eat your weeds!

On Jan 9, 2007, frostweed from Josephine, Arlington, TX (Zone 8a) wrote:

Spanish Needle, Hairy Beggar-ticks, Picгo Preto Bidens pilosa is Native to Texas and other States.

On Jan 20, 2006, MotherNature4 from Bartow, FL (Zone 9a) wrote:

Extremely invasive, but it does have a few advantages along roadsides, but not in my yard.

It provides nectar for butterflies, especially the Florida White. It is edible as a pot herb. The flowers may be washed and served atop rice dishes. They have a peppery flavor.


Flower Friday: Beggarticks

Beggarticks (Bidens alba)

Click on terms for botanical definitions.

No matter what you call it — Beggarticks, Spanish needle, monkey’s lice — Bidens alba is likely the most underappreciated of all Florida’s native wildflower. It is often considered a weed because it reproduces so prolifically, but it is a wonderful native wildflower for attracting pollinators. It is the larval host plant for the Dainty sulphur butterfly and a favorite nectar source for a myriad of butterflies including. In Florida, it is the third most common source of nectar for honey production. Its young leaves and flowers are edible.

Beggarticks blooms are comprised of five to eight white rayflorets surrounding many yellow tubular disk florets. Leaves begin simple and oppositely arranged. As they mature, they become compound with lobedleaflets that have hairy undersides and toothedmargins. Seeds have two barb-like bristles on the end that stick to clothing, hair and animal fur.

The genus name Bidens comes from the Latin words bis, meaning “two,” and dens, meaning “tooth.” The species epithet alba refers to the white ray florets.

Family: Asteraceae (Aster, daisy or composite family)
Native range: Throughout Florida
To see where natural populations of beggar’s tick have been vouchered, visit www.florida.plantatlas.usf.edu.
Hardiness: 8A–11
Soil: Dry, well-drained sandy soils to rich, moist soils
Exposure: Full sun to partial shade
Growth habit: 1–4’ tall with spread of several feet
Propagation: Seed
Garden tips: A single plant can produce 3,000–6,000 seeds that are dispersed by wind and water, but most often become attached to fur or clothing. If you don’t want them to take over your garden, you must be persistent in pulling the plants before they go to seed.

For more information on other Bidens species, see these resources:


When to Harvest Bidens:

While Michael Moore suggests harvesting the leaves during the growing season and drying the plant for tea, the antimicrobial actions of the plant are strongest when the fresh leaves are juiced or the fresh leaves are macerated in alcohol to make a tincture. Many of the active ingredients in the plant are soluble in alcohol but not in water.

For use as an antimicrobial, harvest the leaves fresh and make a tincture. Black pepper is synergistic and enhances the actions of Bidens. Use 5% freshly ground black pepper in your tincture for maximum synergy. However, black pepper should not be used if the tincture will be used in the treatment of severe GI illness. See the caution below.

Cautions:

Bidens possesses anti-diabetic properties. It lowers glucose levels, increases insulin sensitivity, and stimulates the release of insulin from the pancreas. It should be used with caution in people with insulin-dependent diabetes. Definitely speak to your doctor before using Bidens for its glucose-lowering properties if you are on insulin.

If you are using this tincture for severe intestinal infections such as E. coli or cholera, omit the pepper in the tincture. The pepper can increase intestinal permeability, which can allow the resistant organism access to your organs in greater numbers, making you much sicker.


A number of bi-colored, variegated cultivars are available. 'Bright Edge' is one good bicolored type of Adam's needle. It is well suited for zones 4 to 9. Even brighter are the variations with gold in their leaves, such as 'Golden Sword' and 'Garland’s Gold'.

There are many other types of yucca plants besides Yucca filamentosa, including:

  • Yucca elata, or soap-tree yucca, is a tree form that can reach 15 feet tall. It can be grown in zones 5 to 8.
  • Yucca glauca, sometimes called "soapweed," is not to be confused with soap-tree yucca. This plant is suitable for zones 3 to 10.
  • Yucca flaccidaderives its species name from the fact that its leaves stand fairly limp (those on most yucca plants are rigid) it grows in zones 4 to 10.
  • Yucca brevifolia,the well-known Joshua tree of the American Southwest, is another type of tree-form yucca suitable for zones 6 to 8.

Bidens Species, Butterfly Needles, Shepherd's Needles

Category:

Water Requirements:

Drought-tolerant suitable for xeriscaping

Average Water Needs Water regularly do not overwater

Requires consistently moist soil do not let dry out between waterings

Sun Exposure:

Foliage:

Foliage Color:

Height:

Spacing:

Hardiness:

USDA Zone 7a: to -17.7 °C (0 °F)

USDA Zone 7b: to -14.9 °C (5 °F)

USDA Zone 8a: to -12.2 °C (10 °F)

USDA Zone 8b: to -9.4 °C (15 °F)

USDA Zone 9a: to -6.6 °C (20 °F)

USDA Zone 9b: to -3.8 °C (25 °F)

USDA Zone 10a: to -1.1 °C (30 °F)

USDA Zone 10b: to 1.7 °C (35 °F)

Where to Grow:

Danger:

Bloom Color:

Bloom Characteristics:

This plant is attractive to bees, butterflies and/or birds

Bloom Size:

Bloom Time:

Other details:

May be a noxious weed or invasive

Soil pH requirements:

Patent Information:

Propagation Methods:

From seed direct sow outdoors in fall

From seed winter sow in vented containers, coldframe or unheated greenhouse

From seed stratify if sowing indoors

From seed sow indoors before last frost

From seed direct sow after last frost

Self-sows freely deadhead if you do not want volunteer seedlings next season

Seed Collecting:

Regional

This plant is said to grow outdoors in the following regions:

Hollywood, Florida(2 reports)

Prosperity, South Carolina

Gardeners' Notes:

On Oct 27, 2019, MJP0777 from Kissimmee, FL wrote:

Ours is a love/hate relationship with this plant. The hate: my wife hates it because she feels that it makes our yard look weedy. She will even mow the lawn specifically to cut the fast-recuperating weed down. There's no use in "weeding" it out the plant is invasive here in Central Florida. The love: I have a lush and gorgeous meadow-like flower garden of natives and non-natives, and the Bidens flower has sneaked into it. Because I allow my plants to spread freely, the Bidens weed actually looks nice by offering its the daisy-like flowers and texture to the mass foliages. It's notable, too, that it loves being fertilized alongside my intended residents, and having been left unattended, several of the plants have grown into 3-ft tall, 1.5 ft wide "bushes" unlike the scrawny ones commonly s. read more een along the streets of Orlando, Kissimmee. and our front yard.

On Nov 20, 2017, lightyellow from Ponte Vedra Beach, FL wrote:

This is a "weed" but a damn useful one. Below are their uses in my yard as well as my method to control them:

They are the host plant for Dainty sulphur (Nathalis iole) butterfly. They are also a huge pollinator plant in general as others have said, nothing is better to watch for many species of native bees than a drift of Spanish needles in full flush (September to October where I live) but they also attract many butterflies.
Their seedheads are a favored seed source for wintering American goldfinches and the rarer wintering Pine siskin. My goldfinches actually preferred these over the birdfeeder fare (nyjer and sunflower seeds). It's very cute to look out the window and see small flocks of these birds peacefully foraging on these plants together.
Green Deane . read more at eattheweeds also reports parts of them are edible and are even cultivated in some areas.

The downside is that they will take over any bed you allow one into. This is why I keep all of them out of beds with anything under 5 feet in height (I have never seen them taller than 4 1/2 feet where I live) and mulch heavily in said beds. This is not like other "weed host plants" such as amaranth, pellitory, desmodium incanum, and cudweed-- they will NOT co-exist with others. Instead, I let them grow in certain beds in drifts where the only things I have are small trees and shrubs that they can't crowd out.
BTW since I let them do this I've had way fewer poison ivy plants sprout/pop up.

On Nov 2, 2016, tlatoanitzin from tijuana,
Mexico wrote:

Tijuana, Baja California, Mйxico.
Some time ago I was sowing coriander seeds, with little success, I got some coriander raised, these plants eventually withered and dried. After that, a plant sprouted from the soil, I supposed it was a coriander plant, so I grabbed some leaves to use them in cooking. But afterwards I noticed it grew taller than a coriander, so I started to suspect it was not coriander, I took the leaves and smelled them, but the scent was neutral. As nothing happened to me, I continued eating the leaves regularly in soups, they have a neutral flavor, I have even eaten the flowers. After that first plant, this species gradually colonized all my yard, it easily propagates, because it yields many seeds which easily stick to your clothes. I have observed many aphids gat. read more hering in the stem, near the flowers. However this plant is tolerant to aphids. The flowers are always visited by pollinators: flies, bees, bumblebees, moths, butterflies. After founding the name of this plant I discovered it has many medicinal properties:
Antibacterial
Antidiabetic
Antidysenteric
Anti-inflammatory
Antimalarial
Antimicrobial
Antiseptic
Astringent
Blood tonic
Carminative
Diuretic
Galactagogue
Hepatoprotective
Hypoglycemic
Hypotensive
Immunomodulant
Mucous Membrane tonic
Neuroprotectant
Prostaglandin synthesis inhibitor
Styptic
Vulnerary
Some sites sell the dried leaves of this plant to be used as medicine.
My dogs like eating the leaves of this plant, in addition to grass and epazote leaves. This plant is very persevering, it can resist drought, insects and diseases, it grows very fast. This plant is awesome. Some argue the sticky seeds are obnoxious, but it amazes me, because these seeds stick to any kind of clothes, very easily, they stick even to the skin, with no harm, of course. Forget velcro tapes, this kind of seed technology is better. This plant only deserves compliments, that is all. The best is that it's a native plant from continental America.

On Nov 1, 2013, gtbabic from The Villages, FL wrote:

Someone else wrote "love/hate". That is perfect. For me, the over-riding "love" features are that small butterflies (skippers, hairstreaks, etc.) absolutely love it, and the plentiful small white flowers are attractive. The flip side is that it really is a weed, found in sandy / poor soil often near drainage ponds. Intentionally planted in a watered garden, it explodes. It flowers from spring through frost it spreads everywhere, though the seedlings are not hard to pick up the toothed seeds from which it gets its Latin name stick to any cotton-like fabric and also hurt if they work their way through the clothing. It can grow to 6+ feet but mine seem to prefer spreading sideways. It fills in empty spots in the garden, does not appear to be squeezing out anything else and as noted the but. read more terflies (and bees) love it. So it is OK in my "natural" native garden - in another situation it may not be the best choice. I actually bought one from a native nursery specifically for butterflies before I realized they were growing all around a pond near my yard! Note - I have usually seen this called Spanish Needles, but I see DG refers to another plant with that name.

On Nov 4, 2012, Gryphon78 from Leesburg, FL wrote:

Talk about a love/hate relationship! Who needs a butterfly garden with these weeds around! Here in Leesburg FL, I have 6 varieties of swallowtails, Zebra LW, Gulf Fritillary, Sulphurs, Skippers, Hairstreaks, Azures, Coppers, Monarchs, White Peacock, Metalmarks etc. My list is 32 species and growing people are amazed by all the butterflies out here ALL the time. It's pretty rural here with a wide natural canal behind the house, woods across from that, an empty lot next door with woods so there are a lot of micro habitats around. Other than host plants, my butterfly garden is pretty much ignored now because of these weeds. They come up EVERYWHERE by the hundreds! I was constantly pulling these out and had no clue where they were coming from. Last summer I had hurt my back and they got away. read more from me: How Fortunate! I was pretty shocked by all the butterflies that came in and stayed around. I had quite a few butterflies before but they were in and out, they never really stuck around very long. These things are always in bloom, even in the winter, and are covered with butterflies and an assortment of bees. Once other nectar plants are gone, the honey bees and bumble bees flock in. The rest of the story is bad: If they came up by the hundreds before, it's by the thousands now! The seeds stick to everything, my poor dogs get all tangled up with them. There really is no controlling them dead heading would be a full time job, the plants get scraggly and they don't have a scent to enjoy. But, for one so OCD about weeds, these have now found themselves several large devoted areas to grow. I wouldn't be without them now but I just wish they stayed inbounds where they belong!

On Oct 28, 2011, tabby7 from Alford, FL wrote:

I agree with the positive comments about the bees and butterflies but the "sticking power" of the seeds outweighs the positive.

These little devils will stick in your hair, clothing, pets fur and anything else that comes close to the (often 8' or more) Mama Shepherd's needle plant.
I still let some continue to grow and reproduce because the bees and butterflies are so happy with them.

The moral of this story is that those who garden have big hearts even for the naughty kids.

On Sep 16, 2006, Gina_Rose from Hollywood, FL (Zone 10b) wrote:

Although I can't look around w/out seeing these, or step into my backyard without getting it's seeds on some clothing, I would never give up this native for anything. It's easily mowed down, so I keep a section of the yard for these alone, and guess what? When the sun is out, I cannot walk by without seeing at least 2 butterfly species, some small moth-looking things which may also be butterflies, as well as dragonflies and bees! Nothing I have can compare to the appeal that these wildflowers have to insects.
Spanish needles also contain alkaloids which are essential for the sexual maturation of young male butterflies.
Plus, this is like our only real wildflower in SoFla. I've never even come across our state wildflower! :)

On Apr 29, 2005, JaxFlaGardener from Jacksonville, FL (Zone 8b) wrote:

This is the most abundant native plant in my yard. I have THOUSANDS of the seedlings in all areas of full sun to deep shade. It seems that every seed that hits the ground is able to grow! I pull up as many as I can, but l leave some to grow along the back of flower beds since their year-round flowering does provide a nectar source for butterflies at times when nothing else is in bloom. The flower is an attractive, miniature "daisy" and would probably have value as an ornamental if the plant were not so prolific in self-seeding. At the back of the flower beds, it grows to about 4 ft high and blends in nicely with other plants.

On Mar 24, 2005, artcons from Fort Lauderdale, FL (Zone 10b) wrote:

As both noted above, it's a weed and it grows very well and almost everywhere there's moisture.
However in it's favor, during the winter months when there are not many nectar flowers for the butterflies that are around, this plant is in full bloom providing the nectar they need.
I purposly leave my yard unmowed December & January so these weeds will grow and bloom. They are a favorite of the many really small butterflies I get in my yard. I also transplanted three of them next to my Monarch area so the little butterflies would have access to them now that I am mowing again.
This plant is a Florida native.
Art

On Mar 11, 2005, xyris from Sebring, FL (Zone 9b) wrote:

This is a major weed in central Florida, and many other areas of the tropics and subtropics. It really loves our sandy soils, and seedlings come up thickly as soon as the soil is disturbed. Left alone and with something to support it, it can easily reach 6 to 8 feet tall in a few months, setting thousands more seeds. I pull thousands of these every year to keep it under control.

On Jan 23, 2003, Terry from Murfreesboro, TN (Zone 7a) wrote:

On one hand, this plant is great for attracting butterflies and puts on a nice show of blooms. On the other hand, it reseeds VIGOROUSLY. If cultivated, be sure to deadhead reigiously or you'll regret it in ensuing years. A tender perennial usually grown as an annual (or a weed, depending on your perspective.)

Like its relatives, this Bidens disperses seed via seeds that cling to anything brushing against the seedheads.


Turmeric: Anti-Inflammatory Powerhouse for Allergy Relief

Turmeric is a product of Curcuma longa, a perennial plant belonging to the ginger family. Native to tropical South Asia, as many as 133 species of Curcuma have been identified worldwide!

Turmeric is known as the golden spice because of its brilliant yellow color and seemingly endless applications as safe, nontoxic herbal medicine including use as a natural antibiotic. Modern medicine has begun to recognize its importance. This is indicated by the over 3000 publications dealing with turmeric that have come out within the last 25 years!

Dr. Kelly Brogan MD uses turmeric widely in her holistic practice. She writes,

This wonder-spice is a mainstay of my anti-inflammatory work with patients in my practice where I use liposomal preparations of curcumin, the natural phenols responsible for turmeric’s yellow color, when I suspect their symptoms stem from a challenged immune system.

How to Take Turmeric

To defend against the symptoms of seasonal allergies, look for pure, organic turmeric either off the spoon chased with water, mixed into a beverage or food (like raw, local honey), or in capsule form. Dosages of 400 to 600 mg taken three times daily or as directed by your holistic physician should do the trick.


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