Well, I was all ready to dash off a quick post on the differences and similarities between two flowers of the current season… I snapped some photos yesterday, then came home to look up information… I am always humbled by the magnitude of my ignorance. The more I learn, the worse it gets…
Anyway, today’s topic is the genus Bidens. There are over 70 species listed at the USDA Plant Database, over a dozen in New York State. Then there is the common name jungle… Most of the common names in the USDA database include the word “beggarticks”. My Newcomb’s guide makes it two words: Beggar Ticks. Another botany book I have uses “Beggersticks” and another “Beggar’s ticks”. Both Newcomb’s and Peterson’s list a second common name that doesn’t show up in the USDA plant database at all: “Bur Marigold”; in Peterson’s it’s hyphenated.
Learning flowers can be so complicated.
The Bidens are in the Asteracea family, which used to be called the Compositae family (and still is in some field guides). The asters, or composites, are interesting because each of the things we think of as a flower is actually a whole bunch of flowers! In the center are “disk florets” – each of which will turn into a seed. The parts we think of as petals are actually “ray florets” – each of which is a little flower, usually infertile. This family is huge including goldenrods, asters, dandelions, and plenty more.
What I find interesting about the genus Bidens is that some species have the ray flowers (petals, if you will) and others don’t. The first time I paid attention to these flowers, I thought (a) someone plucked all the petals, or (b) they haven’t got their petals yet, or (c) the petals fell off already. Not! Never had any, never will.
When looking at their flowers, you might wonder why they aren’t called sunflowers or something prettier than “Beggar Ticks.” Then the seeds set, and you understand: This is the flower that makes those hitchhiker seeds that get stuck in your socks and sweaters in the fall! Here’s a picture from the USDA website:
Now the Latin name Bidens should make sense, too: Bi=2, dens=teeth!