Borage family (Boraginaceae)
Description: This native biennial plant forms a rosette of leaves during the 1st year. During the 2nd year, it becomes a rather lanky plant about 2-4' tall that branches occasionally. The stems have abundant white hairs; the lower central stem is often ribbed. The basal and lower leaves are up to 6" long and 3½" across; they are cordate-ovate or ovate with petioles up to 2" long. The upper leaves are narrowly ovate and sessile, otherwise they are similar to the lower leaves. The dark green surface of each leaf has short fine hairs along the major veins. Both the lower and upper leaves alternate along the stems.
The upper stems terminate in flowering racemes about 4-12" long; sometimes non-terminal racemes or individual flowers develop from the axils of the upper leaves. The stalks of these racemes are pubescent, and small leafy bracts may develop underneath some of the flowers. Each flower is about 1/8" across, consisting of 5 petals and a hairy green calyx with 5 long teeth. The petals are white and well-rounded; less often, they are light blue. The blooming period occurs during the summer and lasts about 2-3 months; only a few flowers are in bloom at the same time and they are fairly inconspicuous. Each flower is replaced by a prickly globoid fruit that hangs downward from a short slender pedicel. Prickles densely cover the surface of this fruit. Each fruit is initially whitish green, but later becomes brown; it contains 4 nutlets. The root system consists of a taproot. This plant spreads by reseeding itself; it occasionally forms colonies.
Cultivation: The preference is partial sun to medium shade, mesic conditions, and a fertile loamy soil. However, this plant tolerates different kinds of soil and moisture conditions and it is quite adaptable.
Range & Habitat: Stickseed is common in central and northern Illinois, and locally common to absent in southern Illinois (see Distribution Map). Habitats include mesic to slightly dry deciduous woodlands, woodland borders, thickets, and shady fencerows. This plant prefers disturbed wooded areas and is rather weedy. It sometimes occurs in wooded areas where there has been a recent fire, as well as degraded wooded areas that are subjected to occasional grazing by cattle.
Faunal Associations: The nectar of the flowers attracts Halictid bees and flower flies, particularly Syritta pipiens. The bitter foliage is avoided by deer and other mammalian herbivores. When there is an overpopulation of deer in wooded areas, Stickseed often becomes more common. The bur-covered fruits can cling to the fur of mammals and clothing of humans; by this means, they are introduced into new areas.
Photographic Location: Edge of a wooded area at Busey Woods in Urbana, Illinois.
Comments: This is another woodland wildflower with small white flowers that blooms during the summer in shaded areas. The most distinctive characteristic of Stickseed are the prickly fruits that hang downward from its slender racemes. Another species in the Borage family, Lappula squarrosa (European Stickseed), has similar racemes of prickly fruits. However, the prickles of its fruits are arranged in columns with spaces in-between. The fruits of Stickseed are densely covered with prickles throughout. European Stickseed is shorter than Stickseed and its leaves are more slender. This introduced species prefers sunny areas, while the native Stickseed prefers wooded areas with some shade. An older scientific name for Stickseed is Lappula virginiana.