Thursday, August 6, 2015

The Root of Invasives: Burdock - Arctium lappa - Bardane

One visually arresting plant that you will be more likely to find in disturbed environments (eg parks, cities, agricultural areas, roadsides) is burdock. This plant is an introduced invasive plant originally native to Europe and Asia [1], and has been introduced, likely as a garden plant.

Arctium lappa whole plant view
Arctium lappa (greater burdock) is a particularly striking plant, rising to an impressive top height of 2.7m or even 3m [1,2]; its lower leaves can grow to enormous sizes, and its large purple flowerheads on tall stalks make the plant almost impossible to miss.

Arctium lappa inflorescence
A. lappa is broadly distributed in the US and Canada (US range map here, Canada range map here). Though introduced, it has no special status in the US [3], but is listed as a noxious weed in several provinces [4], including Alberta [5], British Columbia [6], and Manitoba [7]. This is likely because it can spread very aggressively in nitrogen-rich soils (eg agricultural areas) [1], because it can cause skin irritation and rash on contact [8], and the fine hairs on the seeds can be dangerous if inhaled [8], and because there is some evidence that the plant may be toxic to some mammals [9].

Arctium lappa inflorescence
This plant is very well known for its edible root. The root of A. lappa used to be fairly commonly consumed by humans from Europe to Asia but currently is only common in Asian cooking (especially Japanese) [1]. The root is edible, best harvested in the fall of the first year of growth (burdock is biennial) [1]. It is mild and crisp. The young leaves and shoots are also edible, generally cooked as a pot herb or in salads [1,10].

A. lappa is a frequent staple of traditional Chinese medicine [1], but there is currently insufficient evidence for its use to treat a broad assortment of ailments [11]. Its use is specifically contraindicated for diabetics and pregnant women [10].

Arctium lappa inflorescence covered with bees
A. lappa seems to be quite popular with Bombus spp (various bumblebee species), as it was actually a challenge to get photos of it without bees.

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