Hackelia deflexa (Nodding Stickseed)

Plant Info
Also known as: American Stickseed
Family:Boraginaceae (Borage)
Life cycle:annual
Habitat:part shade, shade, sun; average to moist woods, thickets
Bloom season:May - July
Plant height:2 to 3 feet
Wetland Indicator Status:none
MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):Minnesota county distribution map
National distribution (click map to enlarge):National distribution map

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Detailed Information

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

[photo of flowers] The flowers are saucer-shaped to tubular, about 1/8 inch across, light blue to white, with five round petals and a ring of white, arch-shaped appendages around the throat. The sepals are egg-shaped and shorter than the petals. The blossoms open progressively along slender, horizontal racemes at the tips of 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 are absent.

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

[photo of leaves] Leaves are 2 to 5 inches long, up to 1¼ inch wide, toothless, hairy with a rough texture on the upper surface. Basal leaves are oblong with a rounded tip, and stalked. Stem leaves are alternate, narrowly lance-elliptic, tapered equally at both ends with a pointed or blunt tip, the lower leaves short stalked, the upper leaves becoming progressively smaller and stalkless. Stems are erect, typically single but much branched with short fine hairs throughout.

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 along the edge of the outer (dorsal) surface, but not covering the surface.


One of a number of sticky seed plants that can be encountered during late summer or autumn hikes through the fields and woods, it is perhaps academic which species is which as you are picking them off your pant legs or combing them out of pet hair. The very closely related and similar appearing Virginia stickseed (Hackelia virginiana) can easily be differentiated by its broader leaves, softer hairs, and sticky barbs that cover the entire outer surface of the nutlet rather than just around the edges. One should also note that H. deflexa's flower color is typically a deeper blue and its bloom period begins and ends a month earlier than H. virginiana. There are 2 varieties of H. deflexa, with var. americana found in North America, obsolete Latin names being Hackelia americana and Lappula deflexa. While not an uncommon species in Minnesota and not well documented anywhere, we had no luck hunting this species down to get images for this web site. We considered ourselves lucky to find a volunteer plant sprouting up next to the dryer vent. Wonder how it got there?

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More photos

Photos courtesy Peter M. Dziuk taken in Ramsey County.


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

Posted by: Marc
on: 2013-06-11 20:05:53

I have lots of them in my backyard in Plymouth!

Posted by: Kathy - Lake Caroline, South Haven, MN
on: 2013-08-12 11:06:22

Lake shore property; in a mowed area at a residence on Lake Caroline. Numerous plants growing and blooming in small areas that were left unmowed due to mowing around tree stumps, etc. The area isn't mowed weekly and oftentimes floods in spring, etc. Nodding Stickseed is a neat little plant. (Evidently, it's small, yet tenacious.) I'm a Master Gardener; the plant was easy to find on this website. Thanks much for the website; it's very helpful.

Posted by: Peter - Golden Valley
on: 2019-08-23 17:44:01

Sneaky little bugger twining up through my trumpet vine and some rudbeckia, almost looking like they were the seeds of the trumpet vine. Pulled them and probably just did their evil bidding by spreading the stickers from their previous location toward the lawn refuse dumpster

Posted by: Marianne - Minneapolis
on: 2020-07-14 21:44:29

Found one in my native plant garden.

Posted by: Jill Diaz - Iowa
on: 2023-07-11 13:05:57

How hard is it to plant a burr plant. The Hackelia Virginiana plant

Posted by: K Chayka
on: 2023-07-11 18:36:40

Jill, I can't imagine why anyone would want to propagate any Hackelia but it should grow easily from seed.

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