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.
Although the weeds within crop stands are annoying, those that appear in fields can be downright dangerous for grazing animals like horses and cattle.
What are Hitchhiker Weeds?
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.
Even now, they’re lingering along the roadside waiting for you to pick them up and take them wherever you’re going. Some will ride inside your car, others on the chassis and a few lucky ones will find their way into your clothing. Yes, weeds that spread by people, or hitchhiking, have certainly taken advantage of you this year. In fact, the average car carries two to four seeds for hitchhiker plants at any given time!
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.
Last weekend, after two hours of nonstop weed pulling (henbit and chickweed as well as S. Willy), I removed strands of sticky Willy from my pant legs, my work boots – and the back of my head. Ugh.
Here’s what certified Austin herbalist Ellen Zimmermann of Sharing the Wisdom of the Plants (www.ezherbs.net) says about sticky Willy: “Cleavers, Galium aparine is a highly valuable medicinal herb. It is used to boost the immune system, particularly to support and cleanse the lymph system. It is also quite useful as a urinary astringent as it assists with inflammation. It is a wonderful spring tonic, cooling for fevers and acts (in older herbal terms) as a blood purifier.”
And if you want to keep sticky Willy from coming back next spring, pull it (or mow it) as soon as you see it. Otherwise, after it blooms, it will throw off seed that will turn into next year’s sticky Willy problem.
But before declaring war on this annoying, cloying thing, I decided to take a closer look. Why is it in my backyard? Can I make it go away? And should I first consider what it might be good for? Every living thing has some redeeming value, right? Right. So, here’s what I’ve dug up so far on sticky Willy:
I don’t have much of a lawn, but for those of you who do, Daphne Richards, Travis County’s extension agent, says you’re having more weed problems this year (sticky Willy as well as others) because of recent heavy drought, high heat and watering restrictions. “Lawns were stressed and had no time to recover before the weather got cold and they went dormant. The dead patches in dormant lawns allowed space for the weeds to root and take off with all of the winter rain.”