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plant with prickly seeds weed

Jimson weed’s white to purple blooms are fragrant at night, attracting moths and other nocturnal pollinators, a common trait in white-bloomed plants. The rest of the plant, however, is stinky! Crush and sniff the oaklike leaves, and you’ll understand why domesticated and wild animals avoid eating this plant—it smells a bit like feet. Indeed, accidental poisonings tend be more common among humans than among other animals.

The Weed of the Month series explores the ecology and history of the common wild plants that most gardeners consider weeds.

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The Weed of the Month series explores the ecology and history of the common wild plants that most gardeners consider weeds.

Having grown up in Virginia, I was intrigued by one of the common names I saw recurring in my plant books—Jamestown weed—and researched the origins. One story simply connects the first New World observations of the plant to settlers in this early Virginia colony. A more famous tale tells of the plant’s accidental ingestion by some British soldiers sent there to suppress Bacon’s Rebellion in 1676. After eating some in a stew, the soldiers spent 11 days in a hallucinatory stupor, blowing feathers, kissing and pawing their companions, and making faces and grinning “like monkey[s].”

The genus name Datura comes from the Hindi word for the plant, noteworthy since most botanical names are derived from Latin or Greek. The origins of the plant itself are contested—every source I checked listed a different native origin, ranging from Mexico to India, and it now grows all over the world. Not surprisingly, it has found its way into many cultural and medicinal traditions. Ayurveda, traditional Chinese medicine, and Native American shamanistic practices all employ jimson weed medicinally or ritualistically. Its seeds and leaves are used as an antiasthmatic, antispasmodic, hypnotic, and narcotic.

You can recognize this weed by its green serrated leaves and reddish purple colored stems that creep closely along the ground. It also has small yellow flowers. After flowering, the tiny green pods produce prickly burrs. These will eventually dry up and turn brown, spreading seeds everywhere.

Burr medic germinates in fall and winter, and flowers in spring.

What is Burr Medic?

Other burr species include:

The use of broadleaf post-emergent weed killer, like Weed-B-Gone, prior to flowering (winter/early spring) can help as well.

If your lawn is filled with prickly burrs, you likely have burr weeds. With a little vigilance, however, it is possible to control burr medic and improve the health of your lawn. Read on to learn more.