Children in Central Texas grew up with a peculiar fear that their counterparts in other parts of the country couldn’t comprehend. Running barefoot through tall grass was a thrilling adventure for them, but for Texas kids, it was a risk best avoided. The grass here concealed not only chiggers and thorns but also a notorious small brown barb known as the sticker bur – a landmine in every backyard.
Young Texans knew that the state’s landscape, no matter how well-tamed, remained wild at heart. As part of a neighborhood gang, they learned to navigate yards like fearless explorers. A dry, patchy lawn was surely treacherous, but even a seemingly healthy Bermuda grass couldn’t be trusted. Sticker grass, paler and spikier than its counterpart, revealed its true nature only up close.
Stan Shaw, one of the bravest members of their gang, often dared to race through the grassy terrain, only to emit a strangled yelp moments later, akin to a betrayed cocker spaniel. When that happened, they knew the sticker had struck, and another yard became off-limits. It was a tragic realization since alternate routes were scarce, and even the asphalt in October was scorching hot, with armies of red ants patrolling the curbs. But Texas children were too proud to resort to wearing shoes, even though it was the sensible thing to do.
The sticker bur, the source of their childhood woes, originated from a low-growing grass-like weed called the sandbur. Its spiny seeds matured in the summer, perfectly timed to torture tiny feet. The sandbur was first identified by Swedish botanist Carolus Linnaeus in the 18th century, renowned for his seminal work in plant taxonomy. It’s a unique grassy plant armed with burs, making it instantly recognizable to those familiar with its presence.
Today, several types of sandbur exist, including southern, longspine, and field sandbur. A glance at a botanical map reveals why these plants are so prevalent in Texas. They thrive in the sandy soil commonly found in the southern United States, often near highways and baseball diamonds where sand containing sandbur seeds is used for fill. While other infested states might have one type of sandbur, Texas boasts all three varieties, much to the dismay of its residents.
The sandbur is universally despised. It is considered a nuisance, pernicious, and noxious. It is painful for cows and sheep to consume, contaminates wool and mohair, and is detested by suburbanites who find it infiltrating their beloved Bermuda grass.
Though herbicides can prevent sandbur seeds from germinating, there are more effective ways to eradicate it. Regularly mowing and watering Bermuda grass, planting St. Augustine grass to shade and outcompete the sandbur, or manually removing the burs are the preferred methods. It may take time and effort, but success is attainable. One Texas A&M specialist shared his experience of achieving a sticker-free yard after three years of persistence.
Yet, amidst the hatred for the loathsome sticker bur, there is one valuable lesson it imparts: cautiousness. In a state home to jellyfish and rattlesnakes, learning to navigate the land becomes a matter of survival. The wise Texan knows when to engage with the untamed landscape and when to exercise caution. Nowadays, some may dare to run through moderately high grass, but only with their boots firmly on their feet.
The sticker bur, born from the sandbur plant, is an enduring symbol of the untamed Texas backyard. Children grew up knowing that their beloved landscape could be treacherous, with grass concealing painful barbs. While despised by many, the sticker bur serves as a reminder to be cautious and respectful of the wild Texan terrain. It is a testament to the resilient spirit of the Lone Star State, where even the land itself can teach valuable lessons. To learn more about the unique challenges and beauty of Texas, visit Ames Farm Center.