The Devil's Beggartick is a native erect annual forb, growing from 1 to 4 feet tall on ridged stems that branch in the upper half; stems are mostly smooth, sometimes with a few hair, and become reddish-purplish in full sunlight.
The leaves, usually opposite, are pinnately divided into 3 or 5 coarsely toothed, lance-shaped leaflets, each with long pointed tips and the entire leaf with a long slender stalk that is grooved on the upper side. Upper stem leaves may be un-divided. Leaves are usually without hair. Fall color can be a very dark purplish-red.
The floral array consists of one or a few long stalked 1/2 inch long flower heads that are terminal or rising from the upper leaf axils.
Each flower head has 20 to 60 golden yellow to orangish-brown disc florets that are perfect (bisexual), with tubular corollas that have five pointed tips. Ray florets, which are sterile, are usually missing or very obscure. Around the outside of the head are 6 to 12, yellow-green colored thin-margined phyllaries that are slightly longer than the disc florets. These ascend and sometimes have spreading tips and resemble a calyx. Subtending the flower head are 5 to 10, but usually 8, green leafy bracts (calyculi) that are lance shaped, slightly hairy and much longer than the flower head. These spread outward and curve downward from the flower head.
Seed: Fertile flowers produce a flat, slender, wedge shaped dry seed (a cypsela) with concave top, sometimes hairy, black to brown colored, with 2 barbed awns at the end. These stick to fur and clothing and help spread the plant around. Thoreau refers to the Bidens seeds as “shaped somewhat like a little flattish brown quiver, with from two to six downwardly barbed arrows projecting from it.” See his comments below.
Habitat: Devil's Beggar-ticks grows in moist conditions in full or partial sun. It will be found in meadows, marsh edges, roadsides, stream borders, etc. It propagates from self-seeding.
Names: The genus name, Bidens, refers to the 2 "teeth" or the bristles on the cypsela, of the original species. It is from the Latin bis meaning 'two' and dens, meaning 'tooth, i.e. two-toothed. The species, frondosa, simply means 'leafy.' It is believed that the common name of 'Devil's Beggartick' is a reference to the 2 barbed awns of the seed resembling the common association of a devil with horns. The author name for the plant classification - 'L.' is for Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778), Swedish botanist and the developer of the binomial nomenclature of modern taxonomy.
Comparisons: This is the most widespread of the beggar-ticks that do not have ray flowers and is the only one with lower leaves showing up to 5 palmate lobes. Except for the leaves it is a close cousin of Swamp Beggarticks, B. connata, but the seeds are also different - B. connata has 4 barbed awns.
Above: Flower heads appear singly or with several branching beneath the first head. The lower leaves (2nd photo) are usually 5 lobed with a grooved stalk. Stems (3rd photo) are stout, ridged, and frequently reddish in full sun.
Below: 1st photo - Note the yellow-green thin bractlets (phyllaries) slightly spreading away from the disc flowers and then the green leafy bracts (calyculi) spreading outward beneath. 2nd photo - Upper stem leaves are either 3-lobed or not lobed.
Below: Mature seed heads produce at flat cypsela with two barbed awns at the top
Above and Below: In Autumn, the plant takes on a deep purplish-red color.
Notes: Devil's Beggartick is indigenous to the Garden. Eloise Butler catalogued it on Sept. 6, 1907. This species is widespread in North America, being absent only in a few Northern Canadian Provinces and in Montana. Within Minnesota it has been found in the vast majority of counties throughout the state. There are eight species of Bidens found in Minnesota, all named with 'Beggar-ticks' as part of the common name. Four species are found in the Garden: B. cernua, Nodding Beggar-ticks (Bur Marigold); B. connata, Swamp Beggar-ticks; B. frondosa, Devil's Beggar-ticks; and B. tripartita, Three-lobe Beggar-ticks.
Medicinal Use: The root of this plant and of Bidens connata have been used to make a tincture used for treating irritations, inflammations, pain, bleeding of the urinary tract and other uses. (Ref. #12).
Thoreau wrote in his journals about the seeds "If in October you have occasion to pass through or along some half-dried pool, these seeds will often adhere to your clothes in surprising numbers. It is as if you had unconsciously made your way through the ranks of some countless but invisible lilliputian army, which in their anger had discharged all their arrows and darts at you, though none of them reached higher than your legs."
References: Plant characteristics are generally from sources 1A, 32, W2, W3, W7 & W8 plus others as specifically applied. Distribution principally from W1, W2 and 28C. Planting history generally from 1, 4 & 4a. Other sources by specific reference. See Reference List for details.
Identification booklet for most of the flowering forbs and small flowering shrubs of the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden. Details Here.
Friends of the Wild Flower Garden, Inc. Text and photos are by G. D. Bebeau unless otherwise credited. "www.friendsofthewildflowergarden.org"