Field Notes: Hitchhiking Seeds

By Ellen Powell, VDOF Conservation Education Coordinator

When you think of summer hitchhikers, you probably think of chiggers and ticks. Ick! But did you know that beggar-ticks and harvest lice might also grab a ride on your clothes? Don’t worry, these don’t carry diseases or make you itch. They are the harmless seeds of some of our native plants.

Seeds that cling are adapted to travel to new locations on the fur of animals. When a furry mammal brushes against one of these plants, it dislodges and carries away sticky seeds. Often the seeds ride along until the animal stops to groom itself, at which point it pulls them off and drops them. In this way, the plants are able to spread to new locations.

Plants in the genus Bidens are commonly known as tickseeds, and their seeds are often called beggar-ticks. The slender, two-pronged seeds easily hook onto fur or fabric. Bidens bipinnata, known as Spanish needles, has beautiful fern-like leaves and seeds that may be ¾ inch long.   

Spanish needles, Bidens bipinnata

The genus Desmodium has many species that are hard to tell apart. Known as tick-trefoils or stick-tights, they have three-parted compound leaves and flowers that are often pink or purple. Tick-trefoils are in the legume family, like beans and peas. In fact, their chains of flattened seeds might remind you of peapods. The seeds have a rough texture like Velcro. The slightest brush of a pant leg is enough to stick them fast.

Stick-tights, Desmodium species

Black snakeroot (Sanicula canadensis) has small round seeds that bristle like tiny hedgehogs. The plants are very shade tolerant and can be found in forest understories all over Virginia.

Black snakeroot, Sanicula canadensis

Harvest-lice are the seeds of Agrimonia parviflora, another woodland understory plant. They are shaped like prickly spinning tops.

Harvest-lice, Agrimonia parviflora

As you walk the trails of late summer, you may find your clothing substituting for animal fur, helping to transport seeds to new growing areas. Can you find other seeds that cling? Attach an old sock or piece of felt to a long stick and drag it through the woods or a field edge. You might be surprised at the hitchhikers you pick up!


Field Notes: Out of the Ashes

By Joe Lehnen, Forest Utilization & Marketing Specialist

Until about two years ago, the fate of trees removed from the urban forest in Harrisonburg, Virginia was predetermined. The trees, no matter how large they might be, were either destined for the firewood pile or had a future as mulch via a giant tub grinder. Like many other municipalities across the Commonwealth, urban trees that were removed due to natural mortality or development were viewed as “woody debris.” Unlike many other communities, Harrisonburg has a substantial component of ash within their urban forests. In one park alone, the city is in the process of removing four hundred ash trees that have been killed, or are in the process of dying, due to the emerald ash borer (EAB).

            In 2018, Harrisonburg began developing an urban wood program by working cooperatively with the Virginia Department of Forestry’s Urban Wood Project. According to Green Space Manager Jeremy Harold, “We wanted a better use for our urban trees beyond firewood and wood chips.” Harrisonburg launched this initiative with the production of a video which featured the plight of the city’s ash trees, but also containing a message of hope of a positive future for these majestic trees.

            Over the past two years, Harrisonburg’s Rocktown Ash™ has become a popular commodity among architects, wood workers and business owners. This ash wood came from the trees that were harvested by city crews in 2019 from Westover Park. Logs deemed to have potential commercial value were offered for sale on  Rocktown Urban Wood, in collaboration with Willow Run Custom Lumber, purchased all sixty logs. 

Recently, this wonderful urban wood has been included as part of the interior furnishings for the Sage Bird Ciderworks and Magpie Diner, situated across from each other on North Liberty Street. Sage Bird owner Zach Carlson selected and finished his own piece of Harrisonburg ash that he purchased from Rocktown Urban Wood, creating an awesome store-front bar top.

Source: City of Harrisonburg

Magpie owner Kirsten Moore has included eighteen urban ash wood tables in her establishment for customer dining. These ash tabletops were constructed by the talented staff at Rocktown Urban Wood. According to Brad Wroblewski (formerly with Rocktown Urban Wood, now with KnochedVA), “Kirsten Moore and I had been talking for quite some time about her ideas and thoughts concerning her new business venture. Eventually she reached out to me and we went over ideas for her tables. She liked the idea of using local wood from a local business and loved the look of ash”.

Source: City of Harrisonburg

Brad continued, “I have noticed of late more interest in ash from our customers. This interest includes local folks living here in the Shenandoah Valley, to customers as far away as Philadelphia. I believe people in woodworking are hearing more about the destruction caused by the EAB and the inevitable loss of the ash trees. Knowing that something may be going extinct intrigues people and in turn they want to preserve and save some part of the history of the trees through their work”.

Additional information about Harrisonburg’s Urban Wood Program can be found at

Information on the Virginia Urban Wood program is located at: