Prairie Sandbur and Bull Nettle

Two New Discoveries of Flowering Plants

In my regular field work here on Flying Hat, two new discoveries were made this morning of Texas flowering plants.  One discovery  was the Texas Skeleton Weed (Lygodesmia texana), also known as Purple Dandelion, Flowering Straw.  The other discovery, this one rather exciting, was the Prairie Sandbur (Krameria lanceolata), also known by the name of Crameria, Ratany or Trailing Ratany.  Before we go to the Prairie Sandbur (accurate spelling), let’s look at the Texas Skeleton Weed, shall we?  (I’m beginning to sound like Mr. Rogers here.)

Texas Skeleton Weed

Texas Skeleton Weed, May 2010

This beautiful lavender flower is the Texas Skeleton Weed (Lygodesmia texana), also referred to as the Purple Dandelion, Flowering Straw.  These flowers appeared rather suddenly in the last two or three days.  The term skeleton is applied because of the  leafless stems and the odd angles of the stems, analogous to skeletal assemblies.  According to Loughmiller, Texas Wildflowers, “When the stems are broken, they exude sap which coagulates into a gum.”  The medicinal qualities of this plant are presently unknown to me.  I am currently searching my bookselves for my medicinal plant book for North America.  I do have Richard Evans Schultes, Hallucinogenic Plants, New York: Golden Press, 1976, but this Texas Skeleton Weed is not in it.  I don’t like the term, “weed.”  This plant is far to beautiful to be designated, “weed.”  Perhaps the Bull Nettle is a weed, but I even have my doubts about the construct of the botanical term, “weed” applied to it.  Weed carries a cultural signification of unwanted, not desirable or bad.  I know we use the term, “weed,” a great deal and I understand the context, but I think it should be dropped from the lexicon.

Prairie Sandbur

Prairie Sandbur Cluster, May 2010

Prairie Sandbur Close-up, May 2010

The Prairie Sandbur is the reddish flower in the photographs above.  It is also known as the Trailing Krameria, Ratany, Crameria and Trailing Ratany.  This is not the sandbur of the grass family.  The leaves and flowers grow from prostrate branches.  According to Loughmiller, this plant and flower is neither conspicuous nor abundant.  They state that the Prairie Sandbur does occur in many parts of the Trans-Pecos River area of Texas.  Our ranch is in the West Cross Timbers region of Texas.  We are Trans-Brazos by about 50 miles westward.  This Prairie Sandbur was found on the east side of Poprock Hill in a well-drained slope area.  This plant may be the rarest find on our place.  I have looked carefully about Poprock Hill and this is the only cluster!

Texas Bull Nettle, Stinging Nettle, Tread-Softly, Spurge Nettle or STAY AWAY FROM THIS THING!

I went out to the Pecan Tree Pasture this morning and hoed or cut out by the hoe some 100 or so Bull Nettles (Cnidoscolus texanus).  I still have about one more acre to hoe.

Bull Nettle (White Blossoms) in Pecan Tree Pasture, May 2010

Here you see the white blossoms of the Bull Nettle in the field.  Actually, hoeing the plant is rather easy since the vascular main stems are soft at this stage of growth, plus with all the rain we have had, the soil is soft.  This photograph is looking southward, towards the Old Bryant Place, and you can see that the pecan tree, for whom this pasture is named has dark-green foliage.

Single Bull Nettle Plant in Pecan Tree Pasture, May 2010

The Bull Nettle is a plant to be avoided.  The plant has leaves that are prickly as well as the stem and if you brush up against it, the nettles will sting.  Loughmiller says the effect of the nettles will last 30-45 minutes.  The stems, if broken, will exude a sap that some people discover, too late, is an allergen.

Today, I brushed up against a Bull Nettle once and I was wearing denim jeans (Wranglers), but the nettle penetrated the denim and I felt a sharp sting.  It was a light brushing, just once, but still burned.  I have a quick recovery to Bull Nettle in my system and the stinging lasted for about one minute.   My initial contact with Bull Nettle occurred when I was three or four-years old and I was with my mother and grandmother at the Sand Cemetery in Bend, Texas.  They were on a cemetery clean-up for our ancestors’ graves when I grabbed a Bull Nettle (trying to help) in my right hand.  It had a lovely blossom.  I really, really experienced pain, especially in the palm of my hand, and for several years, the palm would erupt in a rash.  I think that early exposure to Bull Nettle gave me a bit of tolerance, but not immunity.

The Bull Nettle has a personal and family history that goes back sixty-four years, to a time when we cleaned up the cemetery for the Morris, Baxter and Brazil families at Bend, Texas.  With the 400 or so Bull Nettles I have scooped out of my pasture, every Bull Nettle or so, I think of my family and how I came to be doing precisely this hoeing, on this cloudy day in Texas.



A fine source for identifying Texas wildflowers is Campbell and Lynn Loughmiller, “Texas Wildflowers: A Field Guide,” Austin: University of Texas Press, 1989.

I supplement my typing operations with cross-checking from other sources, particularly the online services listed under my page, “Native Shrub Identification Guide.”  The sources found online at the Ladybird Johnson Wildlife Center are quite valuable.


Filed under Plants and Shrubs, Recollections 1942-1966

13 responses to “Prairie Sandbur and Bull Nettle

  1. Dear Fred, I mean, Jack, This is a truly fine post on so many levels. I agree weed should be removed from the lexicon. There is no such thing. I remember, more than once, you’d think I’d a learned, getting stung by nettles. Man, did that hurt, for a good long while. Seemed like forever. Your closing is sweet and strong. Very nice.

  2. StarkRavingZen

    One of my favorite little plants is the butterfly weed, also too beautiful to be termed a weed. 🙂

  3. Kittie Howard

    I agree that the word weed should be thought of differently. Everything has a time and a place. That cluster of Prairie Sandbar is amazing. How blessed you are to have such a beauty on your ranch. And with all the good work you’re doing, I bet there will be more clusters, yey! But about that Purple Dandelion, I think there’s more to it than good looks. A couple of months ago I read a blog that was about a painting that had a flower with a stem with no leaves. I googled around in this arena and learned that, most of the time, the lack of leaves indicates a poison/irritant of some type. Very curious this is. Hmmmm.

  4. Bliss Devotee

    Not many people know that Nettles are very healthy for you. To take away the sting boil it and add to soups, teas or even beer making!

    Health benefits include:
    * Boosting iron content and assimilation in the blood.
    * Reducing inflammation from rheumatism and arthritis
    * Cleansing and reducing inflammation in the urinary tract
    * Decreasing the risk of eczema, skin disorders, and dandruff
    * Treating hay fever enhancing the excretion of wastes through the kidneys
    * Boosting hormone secretion and bodily regulation
    * Toning the female reproductive system and balancing hormones
    * Assisting the body in times of illness or stress

    If you feel that handling them is to great a risk you can get it in pill form from

    Your article is very well written and reminds me of wandering through the fields outside of Desoto, Texas as a youngster.

  5. Tom Bell

    Jack: Having felt the sting of the bull nettle more than once, I offer real sympathy for your recent, painful discovery.

    Years ago, when my hair was still dark and my belly relatively flat, a wonderful palomino mare I routinely rode slipped in the sand covering the May ranch. She simply sat down and, unintentionally, rolled me off her back and into a group of bull nettle plants blossoming in the pasture. My short-sleeved arm caught the brunt of the fall, as well as the venomous sting of the nettles. The next day, my arm swelled like a sausage burning on a grill, and only the dedicated attention of a nurse in a nearby doc-in-the-box clinic saved the day.

    During the next couple of years, my father waged an unwise war on the nettles by shredding them while riding around on his little Ford tractor. While these assaults were among his favorite activities at the ranch, the real result of his combat was simply to help spread the pain-filled bastards across more of the ranch.

    Recently, Meister (Judy, the woman with whom I live in sin) came across some claims that the plant contains an array of medical values, from soothing allergies to providing zest, when the leaves of the plant are boiled and reduced into a “tea.” Whether that’s true or not, it would be a tough decision for me to indulge in any beverage made from this little oasis of pain. Perhaps, Comanches used them, but they were some pretty tough bastards themselves.

    Tougher than me.


    [Tom Bell is my colleague at Cisco College, former writer for the “San Antonio Light” (sp.?) and stellar teacher of literature. –Jack]

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  7. Kittie Howard

    Another fabulous post, Jack. I’m in awe at the depth of your knowledge and ability to present so much in such an eloquent voice.

    There’s a little something for you at my blog.

    And, please tell me if my blog doesn’t list your blog!! The settings glitch repair seemed to fix that listing problem. Days earlier, when I filled in the form on your blog to receive a reply to comments, I think it somehow dropped your blog. If you’ll recall, this happened once before. I’ll NEVER intentionally drop your blog!! Let me know if a problem crops up, please! Kittie

    • Kittie: My blog is listed on your site. Thank you. I’ll go to your blog soon. I’ve been so busy, not all of it good. But I did see my blog listed on your site and I am so glad you got your computer repaired.

  8. Lamar

    I live in the south. And there are a lot of bull nettles here. The seeds are very tasty. And here the deer eat the tops out of the bull nettle.

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