Bidens: Native Wildflower or Weed?

Posted by @flaflwrgrl on
"A weed is but an unloved flower.” ~ Ella Wheeler Wilcox, author and poet, 1850 - 1919

A member of the Aster family, the genus Bidens comprises approximately 230 species. Species of Bidens are native to and found in every state in the U.S., including Hawaii and Alaska, and also the U.S. possessions of Puerto Rico and The Virgin Islands. Bidens are also native to the entirety of Canada and occur in Africa, Asia, Australia, and even in Europe and Polynesia.

Bidens are a valuable resource for pollinators of all kinds. Honey bees, green bees, bumble bees, and just about every type of bee you can name gather nectar and pollen from them. Wasps and hornets are not exempt from being drawn to Bidens. Butterflies and moths also nectar on Bidens and they are a host plant for some. Yet, if you ask gardeners, they will tell you they are vile weeds, worthy of nothing more than being yanked out as quickly as possible. Why? What makes Bidens so despised? It can’t be that the blooms are not pretty. It can’t be that the foliage is hideous. It can’t be that they are wimpy, lackluster plants that faint at the slightest sign of less than stellar conditions. The photos below prove Bidens are pretty plants with pretty blooms. In addition, Bidens are hardy. They take a licking and keep on ticking.

What, then, makes them so abhorrent? The seeds are to blame. Common names such as beggarticks, Spanish needles, tickseed, stick-tight, and burr marigold give a good clue as to what’s in store for those venturing too close to the plants. The seeds of Bidens are barbed or possess spiny hairs with which they stick to almost anything. They don’t brush off and you cannot shake them off. You have to hand pick each one. I’ve spent much time picking Bidens seeds off the dog, my shoes, socks, clothing, and even my hair, and I’ve cursed much while seed picking, but I don’t curse anymore. Now when I pick them off, I smile at the thought of all the pollinators who have benefited from these plants. I think of the many hours my husband and I have spent sitting on the porch watching a plethora of butterflies visiting the Bidens: Tiger Swallowtails, Zebra Swallowtails, Red Spotted Purples, Sulphurs, Hairstreaks, Zebra Longwings, Gulf Fritillary, Polydamas and Palamedes Swallowtails, a menagerie of Skippers and Hummingbird Moths, and the list goes on. We’ve watched them eschew the Gaillardia, Rudbeckia, Lantana, Daylilies, and Salvias in favor of the Bidens. It’s as if the Bidens have a special magic potion that lures them in.

There was a time when I would have yanked every last one I saw out of the garden straight away. That was a time when I looked at things in my garden one-dimensionally and did not see Bidens as a valuable pollinator resource. That was when we were on a city lot. Now, we have much more property and there simply is no way I would be able to eliminate all the Bidens. So I learned. I watched and saw with my own eyes and learned. Bidens deserve a place and give so much in return. I began to research the Bidens genus and found that they are a great help to the Monarch butterflies during their migration. For that alone, I would love them, but Bidens are also very attractive plants. They have pretty blooms and pretty foliage. I especially love the lacy, ferny-looking foliage of Bidens bipinnata.

I no longer fight to keep my property free of Bidens. I keep them out of the garden proper, but they are allowed to grow wild and free where the arching oak limbs sweep to the ground. They make quite a nice border there, don’t you think? The Bidens and I live in happy harmony these days.

If I ever end up back on a city lot again, I surely will make a special place for Bidens. I hope you will too. Just treat them the way you would treat any other prized plants in your garden and you will be rewarded with their beauty as well as the beauty they attract to your garden.

Just take a look at some of the Bidens species from our database:

Some, if not all, of the Bidens species are edible and possess medicinal properties. The young leaves and/or flowers are eaten raw in salads, leaves are used to make tea, leaves are boiled and eaten, and wine is made from leaves or blooms. Leaves are used for poultices, infusions are made for coughs, and leaf juice is used for earaches, eye complaints, jaundice, fever, pneumonia, and coughs. I have also read that the leaves are an anti-fungal for topical use. Please check with your doctor before using or consuming.

I would like to thank our own Melanie Long @mellielong for so generously providing me with the following photos to demonstrate the diversity of butterflies that Bidens will attract.

Monarch butterfly *********************** Skipper butterfly ************************* Duskywing butterfly

American Lady butterfly ****************** Common Buckeye butterfly ************* Cassius Blue butterfly

Checkered White butterfly ************ Dainty Sulphur butterfly, B. pilosa is their host plant ** Gray Hairstreak butterfly

Great Southern White butterfly ********* Long-Tailed Skipper butterfly *********** Phaeon Crescent butterfly

Tropical Checkered Skipper butterfly *** Variegated Fritillary butterfly *********** White Peacock butterfly

Zebra Longwing butterfly - the state butterfly of Florida

Comments and discussion:
Thread Title Last Reply Replies
Great Job Ann, I have to get me some Bidens. by frostweed Apr 4, 2016 8:32 PM 9
Butterflies sure do love them by mellielong Oct 20, 2014 4:41 AM 8
Native Wildflower by chelle Oct 19, 2014 8:05 PM 1

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