I want to talk to you about my favorite weed. Not THAT weed! The Spanish Needle, bidens alba. It goes by many names – beggar tick, Spanish needle, shephard’s needle… I have defended these plants to many suspicious neighbors, converting some and getting some “crazy weed loving lady” blank stares from others.
Many people consider this plant to be the worst of all weeds and I do not disagree that those poky little seeds get stuck everywhere and are a pain to remove. BUT, considering all of the wonderful and beneficial aspects to this wildflower – yes I called it a wildflower – I’ll put up with the little sticky seeds. (Actually, I usually “prune” them off so keep my front yard looking tidy.)
Observe a bidens alba for a few minutes. You’ll probably see a bee or two and maybe a butterfly enjoying these perfect little blooms. It’s the preferred nectar host for the Florida Duskywing skipper and many species of native bees and is the larval host plant for the Dainty Sulphur Butterfly. It’s actually the third most important nectar source for native bees in Florida and one of the few plants that bloom in January. Leave the bidens, especially in the winter months!
Even more impressive than the obvious benefit to the insect community was finding out that this plant is actually medicinal and edible. And quite tasty! The flowers are a fun addition to a salad and the tender young leaves can be tossed in too. A tea can be made from the dried flowers and the leaves can be boiled like spinach, too. It has strong anti-microbial properties and may be helpful at healing malaria, among many other uses.