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Greater Burdock

Arctium lappa

  • Name also: Great Burdock, Beggar’s Buttons, Sticky Willie, Edible burdock, Lappa Burdock, Gobo
  • Family: Daisy Family – Compositae, subfamily Carduoideae
    (formerly Aster Family – Asteraceae)
  • Growing form: Biennial herb. Strong taproot.
  • Height: 90–200 cm (35–80 in.). Stem branched, rough, usually sparsely hairy.
  • Flower: Flowers form 3.5–4 cm (1.4–1.6 in.) wide, single flower-like capitula surrounded by involucral bracts. Capitulum has no ray-florets, disk florets red (rarely white), tubular. Stamens 5. Gynoecium composed of 2 fused carpels. Involucre virtually spherical, flattish, open when ripe, (almost) glabrous. Involucral bracts overlap in many rows, long, straggly, narrowly elliptic, rigid, light green, yellow, hook-tipped. Capitula borne in corymbose clusters.
  • Leaves: Alternate, stalked. Blade triangular–broadly ovate, usually cordate based, with toothed margins, underside white-grey-cottony.
  • Fruit: Flattish, gently curved, grey-brown, dark-spotted achene with short yellow hooked hairs on tip.
  • Habitat: Yards and roadsides, around old dwelling areas, also rubbish tips and mill areas.
  • Flowering time: July–September.

Burdock generally thrives in places that have been disturbed by humans. Greater burdock in Finland is somewhat genteel in that it favours old cities and manor houses, forming stands in their avenues and gardens. Stands are often very small, consisting of only a few tens of plants. Greater burdock has also spread to a certain extent to city yards and streets, even though construction work and pavements constantly reduce the amount of waste ground areas that suit the species. Greater burdock spread to Finland early on, which can be seen in the way that it is concentrated in the heart of old dwelling areas.

Greater burdock has been an important medicinal plant which has also been deliberately transplanted to new growing areas. In southern Europe a tincture was made of its roots, which was used to externally treat skin diseases such as pustules, acne and boils. The leaves are also thought to have anti-bacterial properties, and they can be wrapped around skin eruptions. Burdock collects nutrition for its roots for a whole year, sometimes more, before their flowering time. Greater burdock has spread far into Asia, and in the East its thick roots are a prized dish and are used in much the same way as Spanish salsify (Scorzonera hispanica) is used in the West. Greater burdock is not really used in any practical way in Finland, and is collected only rarely. It grows most commonly in the Hämeenlinna district, not too far from Helsinki.

Greater burdock is recognized by its feltless capitula and the yellow hooked tips of their involucral bracts. Woolly burdock (A. tomentosum; also known as downy burdock ), whose capitulum has a woolly covering, is much more common, as is the slightly smaller lesser burdock (A. minus). Burdocks that grow together easily cross-breed, and part of the greater burdock stand is actually comprised of hybrids between greater and lesser burdock.

Other species from the same genus
Other species from the same family

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