Cooperative Extension: Spanish Needle, the native plant that pesters many as a weed.

About this time of the year, people begin noticing the Spanish Needle weeds growing in their gardens,

yard, pastures, even in ditch banks along roadways. This native plant has a very aesthetic look to it and has some benefit to native wildlife. However, in the wrong place it can be a big problem weed.

Especially in ditch banks along roads, as it can grow tall enough to block line of sight and road signs. So,what is this weed that seems to be so prevalent across Gadsden County?

Spanish Needle is a flowering plant that is considered a weed in many regions. It belongs to the Asteraceae family and is native to the tropical and subtropical Americas but has spread to various parts of the world. It comes from the genus Bidens, which means two tooth.

Spanish Needle is characterized by its yellow flowers and barbed seeds, which resemble needles. The seeds have small hooks or barbs that allow them to easily attach to clothing or animal fur, aiding in their dispersal. The underside leaf is hairy and has toothed edges. The leaves may be lobed, depending on the species. Some have teeth and some do not; each node produces two leaves along the stem. It can grow in a variety of habitats, including disturbed areas, roadsides, gardens, and agricultural fields. The flowers are radial in symmetry, round, and are daisy like in appearance. A single Spanish Needle plant yields approximately 1200 seeds.

Spanish Needle is a fast growing, fast spreading weed due to its enormous number of seeds and the ability to re-grow from stems. In our more subtropical climate, Spanish Needle can grow in full sun with minimal moisture. It is a tremendously hardy plant. While Spanish Needle prefers good soil with a higher level of organic matter, they can grow and propagate in sandy and lime rock areas with little rainfall and irrigation. Their ability to grow in diverse and less ideal habitats makes them excellent adapters to roadside areas. Also, since they prefer well maintained soils, home yards and agricultural fields provide them with a perfect growing environment.

With their propensity to be a nuisance weed, why would anyone consider them to be beneficial?

Spanish Needle is known to attract a variety of pollinators, including bees, butterflies, and other insects. The plant flowers produce rich nectar and pollen, which serve as a food source for these pollinators.

Bees are frequent visitors to Spanish Needle flowers. They are attracted to the bright yellow color of the flowers and the presence of nectar. As bees land on the flowers to collect nectar, they inadvertently pick up pollen on their bodies, which they transfer to other flowers as they move from plant to plant. This process of pollination is crucial for the reproduction of flowering plants, including Spanish Needle. Butterflies also play a role in pollinating Spanish Needle. They are attracted to the flowers&nectar and are known to visit them for feeding. As butterflies feed on the nectar, they can transfer pollen from one flower to another, facilitating cross-pollination. Particularly in our area, Spanish Needle can be a beneficial plant for Monarch Butterflies as they migrate across the Panhandle from Mexico towards the eastern seaboard. Other insects, such as flies and beetles, may also visit Spanish Needle flowers and contribute to its pollination to a lesser extent. This is why you should weigh the option if Spanish Needle is truly an issue, or something you can stand in a controlled area to aid in beneficial insects.

Spanish Needle can have some interactions with wildlife, although it is not typically considered a major food source for wildlife species. Spanish Needle can be more useful as a protection area for wildlife to hide. Interactions between Spanish Needle and wildlife can vary depending on the specific ecosystem and the availability of other food sources. While Spanish Needle may not be a significant food source for wildlife, it can still play a role in seed dispersal and provide habitat or foraging opportunities for certain insect species.

So, should you go try to plant Spanish Needle in your landscape? The short answer is no, Spanish

Needle can be an aggressive plant, which can outcompete other plants in the landscape. Due to the rate at which Spanish Needle spreads, it can go from a helpful plant to a nuisance weed fast. It can potentially outcompete native plants for resources such as sunlight, water, and nutrients. This can impact the composition and diversity of plant communities, potentially indirectly affecting wildlife that depend on native plant species. There is no sense trying to increase the presence of Spanish Needle, it naturally can become too much too quick. It is best to control the Spanish Needle in the landscape with a herbicide and keep it from spreading.

However, if you keep a small area that is under control from spreading, you can leave some Spanish Needle up for pollinator insect foraging.

Overall, Spanish Needle is native plant that has some aesthetic and pollinator value, but more importantly it can be an aggressive weed that we don’t want to have in our yard, pastures, fields, or other eco-systems. If you are struggling with this weed, now is a good time to think about control. For assistance with this or for more information contact the Gadsden County Extension Office at 850-875- 7255 or visit our office at 2140 West Jefferson Street in Quincy.

Robbie Jones is the Agriculture and Natural Resources Agent/County Extension Director for UF/IFAS Extension Gadsden County.


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