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Shakespeare’s Garden: Greater Burdock (Arctium lappa)

Native to temperate regions of Europe and Asia, this herbaceous biennial is a member of the aster family, Asteraceae, that also includes daisy, yarrow, and lettuce. The plants produce a rosette of leaves the first year and then in the second year grow up to 10′ tall and have a fleshy, gray-brown taproot up to 3′ long, and a green, straight, smooth stem bearing large heart-shaped leaves up to 6″ long with long petioles and wooly undersides. In mid-summer purple disc flowers appear in globular, flat flowerheads. Each flowerhead is 1 to 1.5″ wide and is surrounded by an involucre of bracts that are curved to form hooks. The hooks the flowerheads catch on the fur of mammals that carry them to nearby areas. The fruit is a one seeded achene with a pappus of short hairs that further aid in seed dispersal and are very irritating to the eyes and mucous membranes. Other common names include bardane, beggar’s buttons, snake’s rhubarb, gobo, and thorny burr. Photo Credit Wikipedia

. ( 1 ) Celia and Rosalind exchange complaints As You Like It, act i , sc. 3 ( 13 ) .

Celia: They are but Burs, cousin, thrown upon thee in holiday foolery ; if we walk not in the trodden paths our very petticoats will catch them .

Rosalind: I could shake them off my coat ; these Burs are in my heart.

( 2 ) Lucio promises the Duke (who is posing as a friar) that he will refrain from bawdy talk if they travel together. Measure for Measure, act iv , sc. 3 ( 149) .

Lucio: Nay, friar, I am a kind of Bur ; I shall stick.

( 3 ) Lysander warns Hermia. Midsummer Night’s Dream, act iii , sc. 2 ( 260) .

Hang off, thou cat , thou Burr.

(4) Pandarus addresses Troilius. Triolus and Cressida, act iii , sc . 2 ( 118) .

Pandarus :They are Burs, I can tell you ; they’ll stick where they are thrown.

( 5 ) The Duke of Burgundy describes the chaos in France to Henry V, King Charles and Queen Isabel. Henry V , act v, sc. 2 ( 51 ) .

…..and nothing teems

But hateful Docks, rough Thistles, Kecksies, Burs..

( 6) Cordelia orders a search party for Lear .
King Lear, act iv, sc. 4 ( 3) .


Crown’d with rank Fumiter and Furrow- weeds, With Burdocks, Hemlock, Nettles, Cuckoo flowers.

Greater burdock is valued as a vegetable either cooked or raw in a salad and for its use in medicine, but can become an invasive weed that is very difficult to eradicate because of its deep taproot and abundant production of seeds.

Photo Credit Wikipedia