Spanish needles (Bidens alba) is an underappreciated workhorse in the garden. There are approximately 230 Bidens species with 8 species of Bidens found in Florida. It is a repeat bloomer with dainty white daisy-like petals surrounding tiny yellow flowers that bloom year-round in Florida. An annual or short-lived perennial herb that can grow as tall as 3-4’ and 1-3’ wide, Spanish needles are great companions to dune sunflower (Helianthus debilis) and purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea).
Perhaps more importantly, though, it’s a plant with incredible importance to our native wildlife.
I was reminded of its importance this past weekend as I walked along a nature trail where the plant was thriving. Plant after plant was covered with nectaring butterflies: Queens; Fiery Skippers; White Peacocks; Longtail Skippers; Cassius Blues and many other pollinators. Documented as having a special value to our native bees, the plant is also the third most common nectar source in Florida for all of our pollinators as well as for honey production. It’s the caterpillar food source for Dainty Sulphur butterfly. Small birds like sparrows, warblers, finches and cardinals eat the seeds. The bearded dragons and tortoise at my nursery really enjoy the flowers and young tender leaves. And, according to at least one wild forager, the flowers make a tangy addition to salads – so they are edible for us! The entire plant is medicinally active, including the roots. known to have many medicinal properties as well that you can research that include fighting infections and viruses. Some of the antibacterial, skin infections, anti-inflammatory, diuretic, lower blood pressure, prevent liver damage and more.
Why, then, do so few people include the plant in their gardens?
Well, its common name is perhaps a giveaway. Spanish needles seeds have prongs that adhere to just about everything, including clothing and pets, helping it to spread. With plants producing anywhere from 1,200-6,000 seeds, the plant spreads easily by wind and water as well, which contributes to its reputation as a “weed.” The flip side of this weedy reputation means that the plant is low-maintenance and easy-to-grow. It can also be mowed and kept a little high to allow for blooms or even shaped into small shrubs.
Spanish needles tolerate full sun to partial shade and soil that ranges from moist to dry. If you are looking for a great filler plant that provides a wealth of help to our native pollinators, birds, and butterflies, why not add some to your garden? You can even grow it in a pot to help manage it if that is a concern. To thicken it to be more shrub like, simply sprinkle more seeds in the area you are trying to encourage their growth. The seeds do not really need much dirt to cover them, if any at all.
Stop by Little Red Wagon, see the pollinator party all over this plant nearly all of the time and we’ll be happy to help you pick some out. Perhaps learning how amazing this plant is, you will give it a little space in your garden.