Here is a photo of the seed pods of a very common prairie plant in Nebraska. I wonder how many readers can identify it? The spiny pods are approximately the diameter of a dime.
Think you know?
The plant is buffalo bur (Solanum rostratum). It is a common annual plant found in disturbed areas in grasslands. In fact, it’s found in nearly every state in the United States. Buffalo bur is usually considered to be a weed because it can grow in abundance in areas that are overgrazed – partly because it is an annual plant with abundant seeds, and partly because the entire plant is spiny and not very attractive to grazing livestock. However, it is a native plant in Nebraska and has its own role to play. I wrote a previous post on the value of annual plants like buffalo bur and others, if you’re interested.
As with many similar species, I use buffalo bur as an indicator that we’ve grazed a site hard enough to suppress the dominant grasses and open up space for seed germination. In addition to annuals like buffalo bur, that temporary open space also allows many perennial wildflowers to increase in abundance. As our grazing pressure shifts elsewhere in subsequent years, grasses recover their vigor, but some of the newly established wildflowers remain.
You can find more information and photos of buffalo bur here at the US Department of Agriculture’s PLANTS database.