Burdocks: Great and Common


We all know burs. These are the annoying little natural objects that attach themselves to our clothing or to the fur of our dogs.


The flower heads of burdocks are produced from July to October and, following pollination by insects, develop into a bur covered with spiny, hooked bracts which attach and hold tenaciously to animal fur and human clothing.

Hooked barbs of Burdock

Hooked barbs of Burdock

The Swiss engineer George de Mestral came up with the idea for Velcro when he studied burdock burs under the microscope after removing them from his dog following a hike in the Alps.


But, did you know that there are TWO species of burdock? That is the Great Burdock (Arctium lappa) on the left and the Common Burdock (Arctium minus) on the right.

Arctium means “bear” in Latin and indicates the roughness of the bur. Lappa is “burdock” in Latin and minus means “smaller.”

The easiest way to tell them apart is by size:


The bur of the Great Burdock is much larger.

Another difference is the length of the stalk holding the bur. In Great Burdock, it is quite long:


In Common Burdock it is very short:


Burdocks are found in roadsides, railroads, fields, thickets, fencerows, farmyards, around old buildings and disturbed sites everywhere (e.g. vacant lots, dumps, filled land).

Both burdock species are of Eurasian origin.

Miles Hearn


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