Cenchrus tribuloides – Sanddune sandbur
Definitely one of the more interesting plants in our range here. If you’ve never had the misfortune of encountering these jerks of the grass family, let me paint the scene for you. Imagine you’re walking along, heading toward the beach with your family and friends, dragging a beach chair and complaining about how hot the sand is on your feet, despite the sandals you’re wearing. You’re just getting to the part of the conversation when start feeling hopeful about the cool water you’re about to step into, when – BAM! No, that wasn’t your beach chair unfolding on its own and bruising your ankle. That was a sanddune sandbur. 8 mm long spines have pierced your flesh, and its not just one, but 15 burs that are sticking out of you like you’re made of Velcro.
Now you can stop imagining – because you have to collect the seeds of this gem.
But seriously, how do you collect something like this? My partner Maggie and I had planned on buying a raggedy old bed sheet from a consignment store, and dragging it across the landscape to collect our burs, however, we forgot to get the bed sheet. Luckily though, Maggie had two old towels in her car, so we decided to try our luck with them. Towels are more like Vecro than human skin, right? And more so than a bed sheet.
Anyway, we tried that, and as it turns out, there is a critical mass of burs that will stick to any given towel. I’m going to approximate that the number is around 200 burs per side. Seeing as how we had two towels, two sides per towel, that only gives us about 800 burs. I was finding there to be 1 seed per bur, so in the grand scheme of things, 800 seeds will do us no good when our goal is 20,000.
We then tried a different method – walk through this big patch of Cenchrus tribuloides wearing our rubber boots, and clip the mature inflorescences with our pruners into a paper bag. That worked for a while, but after noticing how many burs were sticking to our gloves and pants, I decided to take matters into my own hands. Quite literally. I threw my pruners to the ground, readied myself, and grasped an inflorescence with my (gloved) hands. Applying only the slightest amount of pressure, I attempted to strip the stalk of its burs – and voila! The mature burs stuck to my glove, and the immature burs remained on the stalk.
After that we were able to collect our goal – and then some – in record time. The sheet was an inventive idea, as were the towels, but lo and behold, our hands were the best tool we had.
Never again will I underestimate what my hands can do – and neither should you.
Till next time.