Vascular Plants of North Carolina
Account for Common Cocklebur - Xanthium chinense   P. Miller
Members of Asteraceae:
Members of Xanthium with account distribution info or public map:
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Section 6 » Family Asteraceae
AuthorP. Miller
DistributionThroughout the state; doubtless in every county.

Widespread in eastern North America. The original distribution is uncertain, but generally believed to be native to the eastern U.S., and not just in eastern Asia.
AbundanceCommon to often locally abundant statewide -- especially in the Coastal Plain.
HabitatOriginally, moist to mesic soils of seasonally inundated floodplains and bottomlands, often in backup channels, oxbow ponds, and natural depressions in floodplains. Since human settlement, now mostly found in barnyards, pastures, fallow fields, clearings, and other disturbed soil. Often common on drawdown shorelines of rivers in summer and fall -- a surprising habitat.
PhenologyFlowering and fruiting August-October.
IdentificationCommon Cocklebur is readily identified by its 1-2 cm long, elliptical, tan or light brown fruits that are beset with straight and hooked prickles -- that easily stick to clothing. Plants usually sprawl on other vegetation, and stem and branches may grow as much as 6 feet, but usually half that or less. The leaves are large and triangular to palmately-lobed, like a small grape (Vitis) leaf. Flowers are insignificant, and thus many people have no idea that cocklebur species are actually composites, in the aster family. Oriental Cocklebur (X. orientale) is very similar, but differs in its darker brown fruits beset with short, glandular hairs; it also is considered as a native species to our area, despite its name.
Taxonomic CommentsSee revised nomenclature in Weakley (2018). Most references name the native species as X. strumarium.

Other Common Name(s)Cocklebur
State RankS5
Global RankG5T5? [G5?]
State Status
US Status
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BA Sorriesmall fallow field in Piedmont of NW Moore. MoorePhoto_natural
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