The WALA Plant Library
Greater Burdock

Synonyms for Greater Burdock: Lappa, Fox's Clote, Thorny Burr, Beggar's Buttons, Cockle Buttons, Love Leaves, Philanthropium, Personata, Happy Major, Clot-Bur
Scientific Name: Arctium lappa L.
Family: Asteraceae (Compositae)


To cling like a burr. Anyone who brushes against a burdock plant while out for a walk will soon understand where this not very flattering expression comes from. The tips of the involucral bracts, which seem to make up the greater part of the flowerheads, are adorned with stiff barbs which attach themselves firmly to clothing or to the coats of animals. The biennial herb can reach a height of three meters. Its often reddish tinged, branched and furrowed, pithy stem is correspondingly strong. The leaf stalks are covered with woolly hairs and carry heart- to egg-shaped leaves which are green and downy on the top and grey and felt-like on the underside. The leaves are very large at the bottom of the plant but get smaller towards the top. In July and August the plant is crowned with loose clusters of inflorescences. From the center of the spherical prickly heads which measure about 3 cm the bluish red flowers peer out over the rim of barbs. As with all Compositae the flowerhead is made up of many single florets. You have to look very closely to see that you are looking not at one but at many individual, tubular flowers. What you don't see is the strong fleshy root which reaches to a depth of 60 cm and keeps the burdock firmly anchored in the ground.

Burdock is very often found in areas which are spurned by more demanding plants: by waysides, fences, walls and dykes, on waste ground and on the banks of streams.