Xanthium strumarium

Scientific Name Xanthium strumarium
Common Names English: Rough cocklebur, common cocklebur, clotbur, cocklebur; German: Gemeine Spitzklette, Gewöhnliche Spitzklette; French: Lampourde aux écrouelles, lampourde glouteron, lampourde d'Orient, herbe aux écrouelles; Spanish: Abrojo
Description Coarse herbaceous annual, seed-propagated weed with taproot.


Characteristic Features

Relatively large, linear to oblong waxy cotyledons in the early stages of development.
Long-petiolated triangular leaves.
Stems with maroon to black stem lesions. Distinctive prickly cocklebur fruit.

Young Plant

The first true leaves are opposite, while all subsequent leaves are alternate.


Up to 5 cm (1.97 inch) long, tapering toward both ends, acuminate.


Ramified, closely adjacent hairs, 15-120 cm (5.9 - 47.2 inch) high.


Lower leaves cordate-triangular, irregularly lobed-dentate, underside thickly short-haired, upper leaves lanceolate.

Propagation Organs


Male inflorescences spherical, greenish, sessile on branch ends.
Female flowers single or in groups in the leaf axils.

Flowering Period

Late summer - autumn.


Small, hard, 2-chambered bur, oval in shape and about 2 cm (0.78 inch) long, covered with strong, hooked spines.


Germination in spring of one seed per bur, germination of the second seed from the same bur earliest after end of dormancy in the following spring.

Viability of Seeds

Tremendous "seed banks” which have long viability.


By seed, the fruits float and are readily dispersed by water.



Disturbed ground, cropland, stream banks, edge riparian.


Heavy nutrient-rich soils in locations warm in the summer.

Additional Crop Information

Occasionally in pastures.

Agricultural Importance

X. strumarium greatly reduces yield, and interferes with combine harvesting. It is a strong competitor for nutrients and water. All parts of the plant are poisonous to livestock, the poisonous substance is hydroquinone. The weed is very variable in phenotype and adaptable. Some biotypes have developed resistance against herbicides including ALS inhibitors.


Useful non-chemical contribution to Integrated Weed Management

Because cocklebur growth is apical (grows from the tip), "knocking the top off" of the vegetation will stop growth. After the first mowing, any new germination can again be mowed prior to flowering to increase the impact.

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