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weed with needle like seed pods

Weed seeds spread in a variety of ways, whether traveling by water, by air, or on animals. The group of weeds nicknamed the “hitchhikers” are seeds that stick to clothing and fur, making it difficult to dislodge them immediately. Their variously barbed adaptations ensure that the seeds will travel far and wide via animal locomotion, and most can be eventually shaken off down the road somewhere.

There are at least 600 weed species that travel by hitchhiking with humans or on machines, 248 of which are considered noxious or invasive plants in North America. They come from every kind of plant, from herbaceous annuals to woody shrubs, and occupy every corner of the world. A few plants you might be familiar with include the following:

What are Hitchhiker Weeds?

Although it might sound like all fun and games, the weeds spread by people are not only difficult to contain, they’re costly for everyone. Farmers lose an estimated $7.4 billion each year in productivity to eradicate these pest plants. Humans are spreading these seeds at a rate of 500 million to one billion seeds a year in cars alone!

Once those weeds emerge, digging them out is the only cure. Make sure to get three to four inches (7.5 to 10 cm.) of root when the plant is young, or else it’ll grow back from root fragments. If your problem plant is already flowering or going to seed, you can clip it at the ground and carefully bag it for disposal – composting will not destroy many of these types of weeds.

You can help slow the spread of these hitchhikers by carefully inspecting your clothing and pets before emerging from a wild area full of seeding plants, making sure to leave those unwanted weeds behind. Also, reseeding disturbed areas like your garden plot with a cover crop can ensure that there’s too much competition for hitchhikers to thrive.

Looking a bit like phlox, this introduced ornamental flower has been popular in gardens because of its good looks and ease to grow. Once planted, it will usually become ‘normalized’ and come back each year. Translucent seed pods appear mid-summer and can be harvested and dried for flower arrangements!

What should you do? Pull it, then eat it! This plant is highly invasive and can quickly overtake a yard or forest understory. Conserving Carolina’s Conservation Easement Manager, Torry Nergart, turns his garlic mustard leaves into a tasty pesto! Like hairy bittercress, pull this early in spring to avoid spreading seed.

Lunaria annua, Annual Honesty, or Money Plant

Send your unidentified spring plants to [email protected] and we will do our best to identify them! Remember – do not eat anything you cannot identify with 100% certainty.

How to identify – 2-3 feet tall with white or violet 4-petaled flowers and oval or heart shaped serrated, pointed leaves. Will produce transparent seed pods in midsummer.

How to identify – flowers ranging from light blue to deep purple have 5 petals. Foliage is low and needle-like. Creeping phlox will often appear to ‘flow’ over curbs and container edges.