The teasel is well known for its pale violet flowers. Its main claim to fame, though, is being the model for Velcro. The hooks on the seed heads fix onto clothes and animal fur with equal enthusiasm.

The wild teasel was captured and enslaved for combing cloth to raise the nap. Years of fine breeding produced thicker and stronger spines and they are still superior to metal combs, as they will break rather than shred the fabric. Some herbalists also fancy them for their antibiotic properties as well as for the curing of warts.

However, the teasel has a Mr. Hyde side to its Dr. Jeykll character. Shaw and Shackelton (1) blew the whistle on its carnivory behavior last week. Poking about in the trapped water in the leaf joints, they found drowned insects  that fed extra nitrogen to the plant.

Not to be ostentatious, the plant didn’t flaunt its rich diet by growing bigger and more flamboyant.  Instead, the plants quietly invested in the future. They were rewarded with a 30% improvement in seed set and had bigger, fatter seeds than when deprived of insect snacks. The question remains though, what did the teasel promise the insects that sacrificed themselves for the greater good?


2 Responses so far.

  1. jazgal says:

    I guess the temptation is too great, and the reasoning too small. Wikipedia offeres up that the teasel may collect rainwater in it's sessile stem- base cup to drown sap sucking insects.

  2. Of course that may be why its called tease. Perhaps the insects got to name it first.

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