A Weed from He!!

By Kathy Conner Cornell VCE Southside Master Gardener Recently, we had house guests. As luck would have it, one guest, Cathy, was familiar with figs. My husband asked her to take a look at our fig bush. She came back with 3 juicy figs and a blouse full of Spanish needles. She was sitting between my sister and my husband so they both started picking the needles off of her clothes.
Spanish Needles are Bidens alba, related to Beggar Ticks which are Bidens pilosa. It is the most hated weed in my garden mostly for the nasty seeds that cling to my clothes and gloves as I weed and our cat’s fur as she strolls through. Bidens are in the Asteraceae family, those with composite flowers. They are “zoochorous” which means the seeds are spread by animals, like the burdock. It is also considered a “waif”, when a non-native is only found extremely rarely in the state per the Flora of Virginia. Obviously, they have not been to my yard. Also called Romerillo, it can have up to 6,000 seeds per plant and the seeds can remain viable up to five years. Also known as pitchfork weed because its seed has two prongs on it (sometimes four) that stick to almost anything. “Bidens” means two-toothed. It does have some redeeming qualities. Its flowers are a favorite of beneficial insects. It is said only Sulphur Butterfly feeds off the B. alba as it has phytosterine, which can be a central nervous system depressant and lowers blood sugar. When the plant flowers is the time when my husband pulls up the plants before seeding. A good practice when trying to keep annual weeds at bay. When we relax and have a beverage, we look out and see all that were missed. Dried leaves of the B. alba also make a good tobacco substitute. The flowers are used in the Philippines in the production of a kind of wine called "sinitsit". In Mexico, the leaves are used as a substitute for tea as a tonic and stimulant. Also used as a tea substitute in Hawaii. In 1991 Egyptian researchers documented Bidens had antimicrobial activity against a wide array of bacteria including Salmonella, Staphylococcus, Neisseria Gonorrhea, Klebsiella Pneumonia and Tuberculosis. It is also good for malaria, snake bite and has anti-leukemia activity. Research shows it lowers blood sugar and blood pressure, stimulates the immune system and is anti-inflammatory. The powdered seeds are a topical anesthetic and aid clotting. There are also some reports the seeds might be good for prostate issues. Well good for the Egyptians and other scientists, I still don’t want Spanish Needles in my garden! Caption for picture: Spanish needles, Bidens alba, are just like the name implies, needle like. They will cling to clothes and fur. Fortunately, it is an annual so can be controlled if you keep it from forming seeds.