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Mr. Smarty Plants - Desmodium spp. (beggar's lice) in Leander TX

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Friday - November 11, 2011

From: Leander, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Pests, Seeds and Seeding, Wildflowers
Title: Desmodium spp. (beggar's lice) in Leander TX
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

Our home backs up to a greenbelt on Blockhouse Creek in Williamson County, Texas (FM 1431 and Parmer Lane). The combination of the flood and drought has left our beautiful greenbelt with an abundance of beggar's lice (I can't find them in the plant database, sorry). These are the little fuzzy velcro seeds that stick like glue to socks and pets. The plants had already gone to seed when our one major rain came in October. Now the whole greenbelt is covered in seedlings for this horrible plant. I'm hoping we have a hard freeze that kills all the seedlings. If not, I'm not sure the natives stand a chance against the army that is forming. While the natives are dormant, should I try and apply an herbicide, plant other natives, mow, etc.? The waterway is mostly shaded with large Cedar Elms and Sycamores, a few Pecan, Mulberry, Red Oaks and (sadly) China Berry. Not a lot of underbrush (probably because of the 2009 flood) and a lot of flood-scoured surface for these seeds to use. Thanks for any help you can provide.

ANSWER:

Since we were not familiar with that particular common name, we went hunting and found this website from University of Missouri Extension on Beggar's Lice. This gave us the genus name, Desmodium, by which we could search on on our Native Plant Database. There are 13 members of this genus native to Texas and one, Desmodium sessilifolium (Sessileleaf ticktrefoil), is native to Williamson County, as you can see from this USDA Plant Profile Map.

While we can understand your concern about this plant becoming invasive, and certainly the nuisance factor of seeds clinging to clothing, we could find no indication in our research that it was a plant to be concerned about. As you will learn from this Illinois Wildflowers site, it is pollinated by bees, and is a larval host to several butterflies. Wild turkeys and Bobwhite quail feed on the seed, while the plant is browsed by deer, horses, rabbits, cattle and other herbivores.

Because it is native and not considered invasive, we don't believe it will be a threat to your greenbelt. It blooms in July and August and, as you say, seeds out after the blooms in the Fall. It makes a very pretty show of wildflowers at a time of year when not many are blooming. It is a perennial that spreads itself by seeding, so you could leave it for the flowering,  the pollinators and browsers, after which it could be mowed before it seeds out. It can then return in the Spring from the roots. Since it is a legume, it also, like bluebonnets, injects nitrogen into the soil, which is utilized by other plants.

We would definitely discourage the use of herbicides. This plant flourishes in a prairie ecosystem, and any herbicide applied would damage other species valuable to that ecosystem.

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Sessileleaf ticktrefoil
Desmodium sessilifolium

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