Wednesday's Wildflower:Spanish Needle

Spanish Needle, Bidens Alba
Submitted by Donna Bollenbach, Suncoast Chapter

Biden's alba, all photos by Donna Bollenbach
Nothing attracts more butterflies and bees than a simple white flower called Bidens alba. Also called Romerillo, Beggar’s Tick, Spanish Needle or Monkey’s Lice, this Florida native wildflower is the third most reliable source of nectar for pollinators in our state. There would be many starving bees and butterflies if not for the Bidens family of flowers. More so, Bidens alba and its sister plant, Bidens pilosa, are both edible and have medicinal value. Yet, many gardeners have a love/hate relationship the plant, and some even consider it a pesky weed. Why?

The word Bidens means two-toothed, which describes the needle-like seeds that flowers in this family produce in enormous amounts.  If you walk through a patch of Bidens that have gone to seed you come out looking and feeling that you were attacked by an army of little black needles, and good luck getting them out of your clothes.  The “hitchhiker” seeds are easily spread by people, animals, wind and water, so it grows everywhere and anywhere, and once established, it is hard to get rid of.

But, if you love bees and butterflies, you need to learn to love Bidens Alba. While not a neat and tidy plant, it is can be very showy at its peak. The pretty white and yellow daisy-like flowers bloom throughout spring, summer and fall in Florida.  It becomes quite weedy as it ages, but if allowed to grow in a sunny area along a fence line, or in the back of your garden  and out of the way of any foot traffic, it will pose less of a problem for you when it goes to seed. What small discomfort you may feel by the prickly seeds in your shoes and socks, you will be rewarded tenfold by the colorful pollinators that you will attract to your yard.  

In most Florida climates it Bidens alba blooms nearly year round. They like sun, but will tolerate some shade. They are also very drought tolerant. The plants may die after the first frost, but will come back quickly when the weather turns warm.  A single plant can produce 3000-6000 seeds, so if you don’t want them to spread you need to pull up or mow the plants before they go to seed, or, you can eat them…The fresh or dried leaves of Bidens alba are edible. Peggy Sias Lantz, author of Florida’s Guide to Edible Wild Plants, recommends that you pick the youngest leaves and sprouts and “cook them in a few changes of water to get rid of the bitterness.” She also writes that if used sparingly, the leaves and flowers can also be tossed into a raw salad. 

Bidens alba: Weed or wildflower? 
It is all in the eyes of the beholder, and the butterflies.


I have to laugh because my late husband hated these because of the seeds, and he would go around pulling them up. I would tell him 'but they are for the butterflies'. I pull them up also because they do spread everywhere, and I still have plenty. They will root just by a stem touching the ground also. The other day I walked into a wild area of my yard and said 'oh no' when I headed back out to clear land and saw my pants covered in the dang seeds. :-)

Happy Spring ~ FlowerLady
Grammy said…
I leave it to bloom in discreet spots in garden because the bees n butterflies are all over it! But when it starts going to seed, it gets pulled!
MissJohnnie said…
My chickens love to eat them too, they keep the fence line around their yard picked clean of them.
Unknown said…
My Great Dane used to love to graze on these on her walks. She preferred plants that had no flowers nearby.
Kikibunny said…
I feed these to my bunny by the handful...available almost year round, I use it as a base for bunny green salad and throw in rose leaves, rosemary, basil, dollarweed and a grapefruit leaf....mmmm yummy!
Unknown said…
Thanks for the info. My sheep love these and I wondered if they were good for me too
Unknown said…
Very cool blog. I just found it. I am home with a broken ankle for a few weeks so always looking for something to do. Today I decided to determine the names of the wildflowers in my backyard. I have four types. As it just so happens, it's Wednesday and Spanish needle day and that was one of the flowers I was able to identify!
Jess said…
So glad I found this. We have so many of these growing in large bunches. They're forming a natural border between our backyard and our woods and we plan to keep them there. Just letting them grow really thick!!

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