It is always difficult for me to pass a common cocklebur and not think of the extinct Carolina parakeet. On the surface, the two species—one a bristle-seeded plant, the other the most colorful bird to ever fly through our skies—seem to have little in common. But the two are inexplicably linked because the spiky plant’s seeds were reportedly the birds’ favorite food. Go figure. But we all have to eat something.
Cocklebur invades farmlands and can be poisonous to livestock, including horses, cattle, and sheep. “Some domestic animals will avoid consuming the plant if other forage is present, but less discriminating animals, such as pigs, will consume the plants and then sicken and die,” reports Wiki. Poor pigs! And the seeds are the most toxic parts but the parakeets fed on them with no ill effect, yet they are the ones now extinct. But, something else did them in, not the cocklebur.
I wrote about the colorful member of the parrot family in my book Natural Histories.
- Photo of cocklebur taken along the Will Skelton Greenway at Forks of the River Wildlife Management Area.
- Painting of Carolina parakeets on cocklebur by John James Audubon.