19 Sep

Caesar Weed

Urena lobata


A joyous week of going native.  Tuesday evening it was fun to bore the West Palm Beach Chapter of the Florida Native Plant Society with my yada yada yada presentation, such an energized and cheerful group.  Then this morning John and I joined ecologist Arnaud Roux for a sunny slog through Jonathan Dickinson State Park soggy shores to prepare an upcoming professional workshop on grassy plants.  We enjoyed the Blue Curls, Roselings, Chaffheads, Liatris and so much more as pretty as a state park brochure.

The pink "mini-Hibiscus" flower (by John Bradford).

The pink “mini-Hibiscus” flower (by John Bradford).

So many lovely native wildflowers, so let’s talk about a Category I invasive exotic weed stuck in your socks.  You don’t live in Florida long before meeting Caesarweed.  Even if you never encountered its pink “Hibiscus” flower, its burrs have encountered you.  The sock-stickers are segments of the fruit, which comes apart like slices of VELCRO pie.  They arrive home in your pants cuff, liberate themselves in the Maytag, and transfer amusingly to your wife’s apparel.

VELCRO pie.  By Top Tropicals (permitted use)

VELCRO pie. By Top Tropicals (permitted use)

Clinging may help explain the enormous range of this around-the-world weed of unclear origins, possibly in or around Tropical Asia.  Florida has been home since at least the 1800s.  Like many weeds, Caesarweed enjoys the company of humans as we create disturbed habitats, disperse its bristly hitchhikers in our spouse’s delicates, and enjoy its useful attributes.

As with so many widespread plants, the traditional medicinal uses are too many to list and actually a bit boring, although if you suffer “windy colic,” forget that medicinal marijuana, this is the weed for you.

Horticulturists are familiar with urease as an enzyme in soil microbes critical for transforming the natural decay product (or commercial fertilizer) urea into plant-useful ammonia/ammonium.   You can buy “urease inhibitors” to ration the conversion.


Caesarweed has urease in its seeds, clearly giving them a kickstart at germination time.  Urease-enhanced plant seeds are not rare, but even so, I dig the idea of a powerweed equipped with its own fertilizer-making enzyme.  So often weeds have special means of establishment after their relocational skills plop them in strange new worlds.

Speaking of special adaptations, flip over a Caesarweed leaf.  At the base on the main veins are glands, apparently to feed protective ants.

The leaf glands.  Apologies for the crummy focus. Don't blame bad.

The leaf glands. Apologies for the crummy focus. Don’t blame John…my bad.

Beyond historical and modern medicinal interests, humans cultivate Caesarweed for fibers up to a yard long.    Not a huge surprise really, as the Hibiscus Family is a fibery bunch: Cotton, Kenaf,“Indian Hemp,” and more.  While some parts of the world are trying to figure out how to discourage Caesarweed’s growth, others research ways to boost germination rates and enhance growth as a commercial crop, especially in Africa where the plant acquires the name Congo Jute.  Before synthetics, Florida used to be a fiber growing and testing center.  It would be fun to know if Casaerweed had any participation in that.


Posted by on September 19, 2014 in Caesar Weed


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10 responses to “Caesarweed

  1. Uncle Tree

    September 20, 2014 at 8:19 am

    Interestingly educational, as usual, George.
    Had to snicker ’bout the stickers in yer britches, and the women’s lingerie. 🙂
    Not a cocklebur? Very similar sounding.

    Have a great weekend! Cheerz, Uncle Tree

  2. George Rogers

    September 20, 2014 at 8:39 am

    UT—you have written the first line of a marching song.

  3. Martin

    September 20, 2014 at 9:31 am

    Oh, George – that’s beautiful – “…liberate themselves in the Maytag” and “…comes apart like slices of VELCRO pie.” Inspired!

  4. George Rogers

    September 20, 2014 at 10:06 am

    Pain is the source of so much inspiration. The Park was beautiful yesterday, around Machine Gun Lake. Are there really still cartridge cases lost in the sand there?

    • Martin

      September 29, 2014 at 8:00 am

      Oh, yeah – I’m sure. At least near the old Army firing range, right near there. Lots and lots of spent full-jacketed bullets, with the lead melted out by fire over the years; just the copper-coated steel jackets remaining. The Feds recently combed that area with a big, concerned group, all upset about its possible hazardous waste site status.

      Legend has it that during the 60s sometime, the National Guard did some training in that area, hence the moniker of Machine Gun Hill (and lake.) I’ve never been able to track that one down for fact, though, but the top of the long ridge has the remnants of the (supposed) foxholes and gun emplacements still visible along it. Unfortunately, I believe a lot of that ridge area was co-opted by the Air Force when they built the missile tracking antenna complex. But it’s been a long time since I was up there.

      And I agree – that is a beautiful area. There used to be a cabin on the east shore of the lake. You can see the remains of its associated dock still jutting out in the water. I have no idea who built it, or when, or what. Rumors, rumors…

      • George Rogers

        September 29, 2014 at 11:56 am

        Martin, Thank you! REALLY interesting. Gotta keep that all straight will exploring the park. That south and SW portion of the park is so much less-visited. I always find the radar antennae in the distance at twilight as sort of eerie. you have good material for ranger stories at the campground. (You just need the crazed National guard guy who murdered the guard with a toothbrush and escaped from the asylum and returned to live almost undetected in the swamps eating snakes and bird eggs.) If they ever allow cabins on the lake, sign me up.

  5. Chris Lockhart

    September 20, 2014 at 10:05 pm

    Thanks for sharing some of the fun facts on this testy plant. It’s one of those wonderful plants you don’t wish to fish out of curly hair, or any hair, for that matter.

    Some of the tallest Caesar’s weed I met was about 7 or 8 ft. tall in Hillsborough County along a creek bank. unbelievable!

    BTW, if you haven’t done something on other Velcro plants like Mentzelia, that might be fun, too!

    Thanks also for sharing your yada yada at the FNPS meeting. We wish it could have been a little longer!.

  6. George Rogers

    September 21, 2014 at 9:19 am

    Thanks Chris, Those big ones are interesting from the wood development standpoint. There out to be (and might be) somebody who studies wood anatomy in species that normally don’t make much, but sometimes do. Will write up Mentzelia eventually—-a case where we have just one species from a family in the U.S…won’t be hard to figure out how it got here, maybe. I wish I could have spoken longer too—was set up for about an hour but, thinking of meetings I endure at work, just could not set the stage to keep people trapped after 9 pm. The 9 to 9 rule applies. Did not anticipate quite such a rich full agenda.

  7. uma Bhatti

    October 3, 2014 at 5:48 pm

    This is my Favorite weed.

  8. George Rogers

    October 3, 2014 at 9:47 pm

    I can see why! I like it too, but not in my socks.


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