Arctium minus (Common Burdock)

Plant Info
Also known as: Lesser Burdock
Genus:Arctium
Family:Asteraceae (Aster)
Life cycle:biennial
Origin:Europe
Status:
  • Invasive - ERADICATE!
Habitat:part shade, shade, sun; dry to moist disturbed soil; fields, ditches, open woods, woodland edges, waste areas, railroads
Bloom season:July - September
Plant height:2 to 5 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: indistinct Cluster type: panicle Cluster type: raceme

[photo of flowers] Small clusters of short-stalked, thistle-like flower heads at branch tips and arising from leaf axils, usually arranged as a tight raceme or panicle. The 20 to 40 disk flowers in each flower head are pinkish-purple to deep purple, occasionally white, with dark purple-tipped stamens surrounding a long white style. Surrounding the base of the flowers is a dense, broadly egg-shaped to round array of softly spiny bracts (phyllaries), the entire set (involucre) 2/3 to about 1½ inches (1.5 to 4 cm) diameter, sometimes variably covered in cobwebby hairs but usually hairless. Each phyllary is lance-linear with a tiny hook at the tip, the edges often minutely serrated especially near the base, less often fringed with minute glandular or non-glandular hairs. Flower stalks are usually less than 1½ inches long but can be 3+ inches.

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

[photo of lower leaves] Leaves are basal and alternate. Basal and the lowest stem leaves are 1 to 2 feet (30 to 60 cm) long, half or more as wide, heart-shaped at the base, rounded to pointed at the tip, on hollow stalks up to 20 inches (50 cm) long. Edges are wavy and toothless or minutely toothed; surfaces are gland-dotted and variably hairy.

[photo of upper stem leaves] Leaves become smaller and shorter stalked as they ascend the stem, becoming stalkless and less wavy up into the flower clusters. Stems are single, usually much branched, stout but brittle, green or reddish purple, hairless to sparsely hairy.

Fruit: Fruit type: barbed Fruit type: seed without plume

[photo of fruiting heads] At maturity, the persistent bracts dry to brown and become stiff, the hooks attaching the seed head to clothing, animal fur, and anything that passes by, spreading seed far and wide.

[photo of seed] Seeds are dark brown to blackish mottled with darker spots, 5 to 8 mm long. At the top is a tuft of light brown bristles 1 to 3.5 mm long that fall off as seed dries.

Notes:

Burdock is a tenacious weed with a massive taproot that does not respond well to herbicide control, plus it has a persistent seed bank. The hooked phyllaries are reputed to be the inspiration for Velcro™. The fruiting heads persist through winter and walking through a patch in early spring can bring you misery. The leaves are similar in size and shape to rhubarb, causing more than a few people to refer to it as wild rhubarb, though I have it on good authority it tastes nothing like it and you'll be sorry you tried it as a substitute. This is very likely in every Minnesota county, though it has not been recorded in several counties. Well, probably...maybe.

For many years I ignored what I assumed was all Arctium minus, since it was the only Arctium species on the DNR's MNTaxa list (still is as of this writing), and the vast majority of herbarium records were for this species, with fewer than 10 records of the related Arctium tomentosum (Woolly Burdock) and Arctium lappa (Great Burdock) combined. I recently checked observations on iNaturalist and was stunned to see hundreds of A. lappa reports, far more than A. minus. As it happens, all three species are conveniently located at a city park near me and I was able to examine and compare them at various stages. I have since concluded that my past encounters were with A. lappa just as often as with A. minus, perhaps even more, though I question whether all those hundreds of reports on iNaturalist are accurate.

Arctium minus tends to be a smaller plant than the other two; those I saw at the local park and elsewhere were not much more than 3 feet tall at maturity, though Flora of North America states it can reach heights of 9+ feet(!) and environmental factors may affect height. Its flower heads are mostly short-stalked and in pretty tight clusters in the leaf axils and at branch tips, where the other two have longer flower stalks that form a more or less flattish cluster. The flower heads are mostly not more than 1 inch diameter, the hooked phyllaries around the flower head may have a few cobwebby hairs and/or a few teeth or short hairs around the edges. In comparison, the flower heads of A. lappa are much larger, well over 1 inch diameter, and plants well over 5 feet tall are common. The phyllaries of A. tomentosum are usually much more densely covered in cobwebby hairs, have minute glandular hairs along the edges, and most plants I've encountered have been 4 to 5 feet tall.

The size and arrangement of flowers plus phyllary characteristics can lead you towards one of these 3, but without flower or fruiting heads it is less straight forward. One other characteristic to check is whether basal and lower leaf stalks are solid or hollow. A. minus has hollow stalks, A. lappa has solid stalks, and A. tomentosum might be either. A. tomentosum leaves are also said to be generally more densely white hairy on the lower surface where the other two are less densely gray-hairy, but I've found any of these can have white or gray hairy leaves at some point so it is not a very reliable characteristic.

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More photos

Photos by K. Chayka taken in Ramsey County.

Comments

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

Posted by: Lynnette - SE Dakota County, Ravenna Township
on: 2011-08-22 15:03:52

I like t o dig first year roots and make tinctures with burdock. The first year roots are healthy for us, and it is a great way to control the huge wild plant.

Posted by: ML - Minneapolis
on: 2013-05-25 19:40:41

What is the best way to eradicate this scourge? Seven years ago, a neighbor dumped a bunch of weed waste on our property (grrr-bad enough...) including some mature burdock stalks. The next year I saw what looked like rhubarb coming up, but didn't think anything of it. Then the next year...it took over. We've been battling it ever since, esp on the back lot by our alley. Any tips for getting rid of it once and for all?

Posted by: K. Chayka
on: 2013-05-26 07:43:42

ML, burdock is a biennial and you probably have a massive seed bank to contend with, so treatments like roundup won't get you far. The trick is to prevent any more seed from forming. Pull what you can, cut back plants when they bud, and behead flowering plants before they go to seed. Don't just uproot or cut flowering plants at ground level, as there will be sufficient energy stored in the plant to continue producing seed. I usually pull the flowers off to prevent that, then cut them off or uproot. Persistence is required. Good luck.

Posted by: BW - Otsego
on: 2013-08-17 21:11:30

Saw this in Maria State Park. Didn't know what it was at the time. Should have I pulled/destroyed it? What are the ethics of this on state land? I know what I will do but some people are funny (officials) and that would be all I need...

Posted by: K. Chayka
on: 2013-08-18 05:05:20

Technically, you need a special permit from the DNR to do anything with plants (even weed pulling) in state parks or other state lands. Some state parks have volunteer programs that you might join to participate in "approved" weed pulling. You can ask a park naturalist or manager for more info.

Posted by: Katie - Sauk Centre
on: 2014-07-08 16:50:35

We have 3 acres of woods on our 5 acres of land. The burdock and loco weed (fireweed) have overtaken the entire area and now they are both spreading out into my yard and my gardens. I don't know what to do. I've tried pulling, cutting, weed control products but I've gotten no where in 8yrs. The problem is just getting worse. My father in law had to chemically burn them off of his property, however, what he used I'm not comfortable with since I don't want it getting into my, or my neighbors, well water. (he used a gasoline mixture). Any suggestions? Thanks!

Posted by: K. Chayka
on: 2014-07-08 19:01:50

Katie, burdock is a biennial and produces copious amounts of seed so you have a large seed bank to contend with. Preventing plants from producing more seed is crucial. If you can do that then eventually what's already in the seed bank will be depleted. I don't know how long burdock seeds are viable but it can take many years. I've been managing a population of garlic mustard (also biennial) this way, uprooting plants when budding, removing flower heads so they can't bear seed, and bagging developing fruit then burning it or tossing in the trash. 8 years now and counting, but I am making a dent.

Posted by: JM - Arden Hills
on: 2014-08-02 10:30:37

Seen around the southern parking lots on the Arden Hills campus of Boston Scientific, just outside the landscaped area. On private property, so I was reluctant to do anything, but it's clearly taking hold in several spots.

Posted by: chetyl - elm creek park
on: 2015-05-08 23:00:23

Starting to come up on the intermediate mountain bike trail at elm creek regional park

Posted by: Chelsey - lindstrom
on: 2015-07-17 23:29:38

My garden use to be overrun with burdock. I just kept pulling all the leaves off when ever they grew and threw them in the compost. After 3yrs there roots just died and I could pull them straight out the ground. One was over a foot. I have a couple that are now growing but the plant is not so intimidating any more. Now Canadian thistle is my problem plant. Also have bitter nightshade, and raspberries.

There's also a weird vine with 5-6 leaves large on the end of each stem, its taking over everything behind the fence, climbing over the smaller trees and is starting up the box elder tree. Defeat one another takes its place :(

Posted by: Anne - Kanabec County, 7 miles east of Mora
on: 2015-07-19 18:32:46

I have one plant that has grown for about 3 years. This is the first year it is blooming. The plant is over 6 feet tall. It's much bigger this year than in the past.

Posted by: mike m - north central
on: 2016-03-25 00:52:56

If your property is of a size where you can't remove this plant by hand yet the land is good habitat for burdock you will NEVER get rid of it short of agent orange ... (that's a joke folks!) However, you do have a chance at a measure of success if you can change the surrounding flora that competes with it for light, water and nutrienhe. Remember that animals do spread the seeds very efficiently wherever they tread and this, of course, includes small rodents so fencing is of minimal effect. Better to do what you can by chopping out the flowering plants below ground with a sharpened spade shovel before the purple shows, then change the way you think about burdock.

Posted by: anke - MN zoo. and in my yard
on: 2016-07-29 22:29:36

sited at the MN ZOO and my yard woodland Rd and Plateu in Lakeville I will destroy mine but it also says online it attracts bees and insects. so that's a good thing right?

Posted by: K. Chayka
on: 2016-07-30 06:14:34

Anke, why not replace it with a native plant that does the same thing, like a native thistle or a milkweed?

Posted by: Leah B - West Medicine Lake Park, Plymouth
on: 2017-06-27 21:07:20

This plant grows beside and in the middle of one of my favorite walking trails, making it nearly impassable during certain times of the year :( (The trails are across the road from the west side of Medicine Lake).

Posted by: Judi P - St. Paul
on: 2017-07-10 00:22:17

Will green burrs just forming continue to set seed after chopping stalk? No purple yet. Can I chop and drop?

Posted by: Jeanne F - St Paul, on W 7th betwn Snelling and St.P Ave and up Davern
on: 2017-08-01 09:02:06

This is a terrible weed. People think it is harmless in its first year, then it explodes in its 2nd year and takes over. City of StP has given up its roadside management abd it is moving up the hill from West &th up into Highland at an alarming rate. Deer and animals track it everywhere. We need a public info campaign and City NEEDS TO handle its roadsides. They own McDonough Park and it is growing all over.

Posted by: LJ10 - Burnsville
on: 2018-04-06 21:37:01

One day last summer, I got a bunch of these stuck to me while mowing. Feeling curious, I decided to examine one of the burrs a little closer. I dug into one with a fingernail and broke it apart, and A VERY SMALL WORM came out of the center. Is that normal or just a strange, gross fluke? It's bugged me (no pun intended) ever since. I really would like to know the answer. Thanks in advance! :)

Posted by: K. Chayka
on: 2018-04-08 21:00:38

LJ10, insects, both larva and adults, eat seeds. What you saw was probably a generalist insect, not a specialist, so it might eat seeds of many different plants including burdock.

Posted by: Angie - Eden Prairie
on: 2018-05-18 15:54:55

The path by the Home Depot is being slowly overtaken by burdock and a couple other invasives. I'm sad about this city park area because I can see the natives being crowded out little by little.

Posted by: Rita - Maplewood, Beaver Lake area
on: 2018-07-13 23:14:09

We are on a mission in my neighborhood. I cut the second year growth below the bottom leaves....hopely before they turn purple. Especially before they ripen. I take out dead stalks with burs remaiming on them.l monitor areas where l have chopped and if l find regrowth, l cut it again. If you look closely, at the point where each leave comes off of the main stalk, an offshoot will appear....yup....each leaf. That's why you need to cut below ALL of the leaves.

On the 1st year growth, a mix of 1 gallon of vinegar, 1 pound of salt and some Dawn dish soap (for stickiness) in a hand sprayer, sprayed only on the leaves, will brown them out, wilt them and make them disappear. I do not know what the longterm consequences of using this mixture are. I do know that Burdock....1st year, 2nd year, it all hates it. I take my dog for a walk and take a bottle with me. It becomes an obsession. Good luck.

Posted by: K. Chayka
on: 2018-07-14 04:25:12

Rita, even though you may only spray the leaves, salt will contaminate the soil, killing both good and bad plants as well as organisms that live in the soil, and should not be used unless you don't care if nothing grows back in that spot.

Posted by: kristin driessen - Lake Shore
on: 2018-09-11 12:57:37

This grows in my yard and many other places in the area. Very difficult to eradicate. At minimum please clip the flowers off before turning to the "velcro balls". Hummingbirds and bats have gotten caught on this causing their death.

Posted by: Rita - Maplewood
on: 2019-07-15 22:44:37

We seem to be getting ahead of the burdock. Still chopping second year growth below the bottom leaves. New spray mix is helping. The salt/vinegar mix, with much less salt is working. There is only one area that doesn't have new...and different, plants growing yet. This is the 4th year of ridding my little part of the planet of burdock. I'm thinking that 2 more years of constant diligence and we will be....temporarily...rid of this deceptively pretty planet.... ....Heaven help me, I've been chopping flowers off of thistle. It seems that where there's burdock, there's thistle.

Posted by: Tracy Sutorus - Scott county
on: 2020-08-11 16:57:01

My husband says I'm crazy, but I think this "weed" is pretty, I mean grass is considered a weed right? I see it near the credit river and always wondered what is was. My mom had one pop up near her walk way. I thought about planting some seeds in a planter or to cover my fence. But now a little scared to.

Posted by: K. Chayka
on: 2020-08-12 06:10:55

Tracy, consider any plant growing where it is not wanted as a weed. In any case, you really don't want to cultivate this because you'll never be able to contain it. The fruits can travel far and wide not only through your own and neighbors' yards, but also to new locations by birds, squirrels or other wildlife, and any dogs that are unlucky enough to get the barbed fruits stuck in their fur. Don't encourage it.

Posted by: Jason Husveth - Marine On St. Croix
on: 2021-03-04 11:25:20

I use a cordless (battery powered) Sawzall with a 10 inch demolition blade (for cutting through wall studs and nails) and stick this blade right in the ground, pull the trigger and cut the root in one second'S time. Pull the whole root and rosette and flower shoot out of the ground and compost it. If I get enough of the root, the plant will not come back. Minimal disturbance to the ground, no wear on the demolition blade, and no herbicide. Do this for two or three seasons along with Rx burning and the problem is solved or very under control.

Posted by: Jillian Fejszes - Marshall County
on: 2021-06-01 16:56:20

Saw very large burdock plants near Red River in Marshall County.

Posted by: Chuck Burkholz - Juneau Wisconsin
on: 2021-08-21 20:41:38

Persistence. I've been beheading thistles and burdock for close to 30 years at my place in central Wisconsin, 98% are gone. Gotta cut 'em when the flower is just appearing. I've been burning the chopped burdock plants late season after they're dry, the thistle I just beheaded and left. Used to raise sheep. Yep, the burdock was a problem!

Posted by: Elle - Crystal
on: 2023-05-09 21:59:38

I heard from an Indigenous source that these are not invasive. I'm lost on who I should trust. Any ideas on how I can confirm if this is in fact invasive?

Posted by: K Chayka
on: 2023-05-10 05:37:58

Elle, "invasive" may be in the eye of the beholder here. Burdock can be a serious pest plant.

Posted by: Peter Joseph - East Central
on: 2023-05-21 21:14:51

Research on this common weed called Burdock and its root informs me that the root can fetch up to 25.00 per lb in some locals, How can this be? after all its just an obnoxious weed with sticker burrs that attach themselves to your clothing. Honestly, what could be the reason for this interest in an invasive weed.? It is widely ignored for its reported on long standing use by asian and other native cultures as of tremendous benefit to persons health and welfare. Shazam!

Posted by: K Chayka
on: 2023-05-22 07:26:11

Peter, there are many plants that are beneficial to humans for their medicinal or nutritional properties, but that doesn't mean they should be allowed to run rampant in places where they contribute to ecological degradation.

Posted by: BR - West 7th
on: 2023-08-29 13:52:45

Burdock was absolutely taking over my yard last summer (2022). I've mostly eradicated it by pulling out THE ENTIRE ROOT of every single burdock plant around my home. It took time and persistence, but they are easy to identify once you know what to look for. I cannot emphasize enough that you MUST REMOVE THE ENTIRE ROOT or else they will grow new leaves right off the broken root, no matter how deep in the soil. Pulling out the root is very easy when the plant is an inch or so tall, but established burdock requires some wrestling and a long and skinny (and strong!) de-weeding tool. I've pulled roots that were the length of my arm! I bought my house in winter and was not prepared for the prevalence and diversity of tenacious weeds in St. Paul!

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