The Friends of the Wild Flower Garden, Inc.

Plants of the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden

The oldest public wildflower garden in the United States


Common Name
Virginia Stickseed (Beggar’s Lice)


Scientific Name
Hackelia virginiana (L.) I. M. Johnst.


Plant Family
Borage (Boraginaceae)

Garden Location


Prime Season
Late Summer to Autumn Flowering



Virginia Stickseed is a stout erect biennial, growing from 1 to 4 feet high on hairy stems, with many upper flowering branches. The stem also usually branches from the base.

Leaves: The lower leaves are large, ovate - 2x as long as wide - with a stalk, the upper leaves will be more narrow and stalkless. The upper surface is dark green, the underside pale, with many fine hair on the rib and veins.

The inflorescence consists of many paired spreading clusters (racemes) at the top of the stems and some from the upper leaf axils. The racemes gradually expand and spread out from their common point such that they are usually horizontal to the main stem as the final flowers of the cluster open. Flowers closest to the raceme starting point open first. Initially, the cluster is tightly bunched when the first flowers open. Normally only one or two will be open on each raceme at the same time. These racemes will reach up to 6 inches in length as the flowers open. The upper racemes are leafless, but lower ones will have leaf bracts.

Flowers: The tiny 1/8 inch flowers are white to bluish-pink and funnel shaped with the corolla tube shorter than the spreading upper parts which open to 5 blunt rounded petals. There are 5 stamens whose anthers are white initially, turning yellowish and finally reddish after pollination. There is a single style rising from a 4-part ovary. The reproductive parts are kept inside the throat of the corolla - not exserted. The hairy green calyx has 5 long pointed lobe tips. The flowers are on small stalks, stalks, calyx and raceme are all hairy.

Seed: Mature flowers produce a round sticky bur which is divided into 4 nutlets facing each other, with prickles on the back side which will attach to clothing and hence the common names.


Habitat: Stickseed grows in fertile soils of open woods, particularly disturbed woods, where there is partial shade with at least medium moisture conditions. The root system has a large but shallow taproot.

Names: The genus Hackelia is an honorary for Josef Hackel (1783-1859) Czech Botanist. The species, virginiana, refers to 'of the state of Virginia,' the original type location of the plant. The author names for the plant classification are: First to classify was '(L.)' refers to Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778), Swedish botanist and the developer of the binomial nomenclature of modern taxonomy. His work was amended by ‘I.M.Johnst.’ which is for Ivan Murray Johnson (1898-1960) American botanist, plant collector whose collections are at Claremont and Harvard.

Comparisons: The close relative of Virginia Stickseed that you may see is the American Stickseed, Hackelia deflexa. There the plant is of equal height, but slender - not stout. Also the 4-part burs lack prickles all around - the back side of each of the 4 nutlets will lack prickles.

See bottom of page for notes on the Garden's planting history, distribution in Minnesota and North America, lore and other references.

full plant drawing

Above: Most literature lists the height of Virginia Stickseed as 1 to 3 feet. However, it is not unusual to see plants such as this one that exceed 48 inches. Drawing from Britton, N.L., and A. Brown. 1913. An illustrated flora of the northern United States, Canada and the British Possessions. 3 vols. Charles Scribner's Sons, New York.

Below: 1st photo - The small 1/8 inch whitish flower appears on a long raceme branched from the main stem. The raceme elongates as each flower opens. 2nd photo - Detail of the paired racemes branching from a common point and spreading horizontally from the stem.

flower Virginia stickseed flower raceme

Below: Leaves - the lower leaves are stalked with mostly smooth dark green upper surfaces (1st photo) while the underside (2nd photo) is paler in color with hair on all the major veins and ribs.

leaf upper side Leaf underside

Below: 1st photo - The flower clusters are initially tightly bunched and later elongate (as seen in the photos above) as flowers continue to open - only one or two open at a time. 2nd photo - Upper leaves have much shorter stalks or are stalkless.

flower cluster upper leaf

Below: 1st photo - The stem of the raceme and the individual flower stalks and the green calyx are all hairy. Note the leafy bract at the base of the cluster in this photo and the one above. 2nd photo - The fruit is a 4-part bur, with each of the 'nutlets' having prickles on the exposed sides. Prickles are soft in this green stage.

calyx bur

Below: 1st photo - Stems have many fine hair. 2nd photo - The taproot and the stout lower stem showing two side branches. 3rd photo - Burs develop on the flower raceme

stem root seeds


Notes: Virginia Stickseed is native to the United States from the Great Plains eastward and in Canada it is known in Ontario and Quebec. In Minnesota it is found in a band of counties crossing the southern 2/3rds of the states, with some scattered exceptions, particularly along the Iowa border. It is considered indigenous to the Garden area and it was present in the Garden on Martha Crone's 1951 Garden Census.

References and site links

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.

graphicIdentification booklet for most of the flowering forbs and small flowering shrubs of the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden. Details Here.