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All About Sandbur

The pesky and invasive nature of weeds often plagues people. Not only will they destroy your crops and ruin the aesthetic of your yard, but some of them can also actually cause physical pain to you or your pets.

This is particularly true for Sandburs. These spiky annoyances can tag onto your clothes and skin and continue to poke their way around your life.

So how do you identify Sandburs, and how can you eliminate them? Keep reading to learn all about Sandburs, including the answers to these questions and more.

Burr Grass or Cenchrus echinatus, southern sandbur, Mossman River grass

How to Identify Sandburs

The easiest time to identify Sandburs, Sticker Burrs, or Sandspurs is after flowering. If you think you’ve spotted this weed, look at its inflorescence (flowering pattern). Sandburs contain one to three-inch long areas with 6-20 spiny burs.

Many Sandburs have hairs distributed throughout, but their placement depends on the variety. You’ll find hairs ranging in location from leaf margins to the base of the blades.

Seedlings and seed leaves of Sandburs are usually purple but can also be red or green, depending on the age of the plant.

Mature plants form clusters of upright stems and have angular collars (or areas outside the leaf where the sheath meets the blade).

This plant is typically less than 40 inches tall and has shallow roots, and they’re mostly found in dry sandy soils or patchy lawns.

What Makes It a Weed

Cenchrus echinatus , mossman river grass, spiny sandbur, southern sanbur, burgrass in the shrubs. Blurry background.

A weed is defined as a plant that grows where it is not wanted. This includes plants that were not purposely sown in a specific location and plants that compete and interfere with the activity of people or other plants.

That being said, Sandburs are rarely ever grown intentionally. They greatly interfere with those around them by painfully sticking to their skin and latching themselves onto people’s clothing, making it clear why these plants are classified as weeds.

Problems Created by Sandburs

The main challenge when it comes to Sandspurs is their sharp spines that can attach to clothing or get stuck in your skin. They’re painful for humans and animals alike and hard to eliminate.

Often tweezers are required to remove them from the skin, and sometimes they can even leave a spike or two in your body.

Sandburs can also be particularly dangerous for grazing animals. Some varieties of this weed can cause problems like chronic kidney disease in horses if ingested over a long period of time.

Although Sandburs generally isn’t a problem in well-maintained turfgrass areas, they can easily spread throughout your land once one arises.

How Sandburs Spread

Cenchrus echinatus L. Or Southern sandbur thorny fruit was attached to leg trousers of person wearing canvas shoe and jeans.

Sandburs quickly spread from seeds. They can produce up to 1,000 seeds per plant, and although they prefer sandy, well-drained soils, they have adapted to tolerate various habitats. Their spikes are another adaptation that facilitates their spread and dispersal.

Sticker Burrs will attach to the clothing or skin of humans and animals and be transported wherever that carrier goes. This mode of travel allows Sandburs to become a widespread problem and helps them easily establish themselves all throughout different gardens, farms, or any plot of land.

How to Get Rid of Them

Cenchrus echinatusThe plant bends slightly curved, long leaves, smooth, branched inflorescence. Each branch has 2-3 small flowers. Dry, brownish-yellow

Although difficult, a few ways exist to eliminate this disastrous weed from your land. Frequently mowing your lawn can help prevent young Sandbur plants from forming seed beds and control the problem before it gets out of hand.

After mowing, rake up the debris to collect as much of the burs as possible, which will help prevent further spread.

Fertilization is the most effective way of controlling and getting rid of Sandburs once they’ve begun taking over your lawn. Pre-emergent herbicides can kill the plants before they emerge from the soil when they are most vulnerable to chemicals.

Post-emergent application is a bit harder since the original go-to herbicide (MSMA) is no longer distributed. Try looking for a liquid herbicide with a combination of active ingredients. However, some of these herbicides are not recommended for certain long grasses, so always make sure to check the labels for further information.

Post-emergent products are best applied in the spring and early summer, as this is when the Sticker burrs grow the most. Try to apply the herbicide when no rain is expected to ensure it can work effectively.

Where They Came From

Sandburs are a group of grasses from the genus Cenchrus that thrive in sandy soils and dry areas. This weed is native to the warm sandy areas of North America, North Africa, Asia, Europe, and the South Pacific.

What They’re Good For

Believe it or not, Sandspurs are actually edible and are a great ingredient in grain-based dishes. They have a nutty flavor and are well-liked when used to make porridge.

This spiky plant can also be processed into flour with a bit more effort. Sandbur seeds, additionally, make a great source of starch for use in beer, wine, and sake.

How to Use This Weed

To be able to use Sandburs for culinary purposes, you do have to prepare them like any other grain. They must be dehulled, dried, and then ground before use.

You can try a few methods to remove the spines to make this weed ready for consumption. First, you can burn them off in a fire, kind of like roasting a marshmallow. Try not to let the spikes catch on fire because they’ll quickly burn to a crisp due to their high oil content (you want to singe them off).

You can also place the raw Sandburs in a big mortar and pound them until the spines and hulls are separated. Another simple and efficient method is by rubbing the burs between two pieces of leather to separate the seed from the spines.

Wrapping Up These Spiky Pests

Most weed types are quite an annoyance, whether it be because of the damage they cause to your yard or, in the case of Sandburs, their tendency to latch onto your skin and clothes.

Hopefully, now you’ll be able to identify this weed variety quickly and can work to control/get rid of it, should you ever have to face it.

If you feel like you need to learn more about these pesky garden tenants, check out our weeds page to learn all about different weed varieties, treatment options, and surprising information.