Sandspurs — a downside to fall in Florida

‘Ouch! What the—? OW!”
These are words I’ve been regularly saying over the past month as tiny balls of thorny spikes prick and poke me whenever I step outside. They can be green or brown, but they hurt like the dickens no matter the color. What on earth is this creation of torture?
I first noticed the plant of pain when my dog, Bindi, started limping on our walks. She’d walk along quite happily, suddenly stumble then hobble forward. I’d bend down with her looking at me with sad eyes as I examined her paw. Sure enough, somewhere either between her toes or on her paw pad or on her heel would be a spiky ball, or even two. As she would yelp, I’d pluck them off as fast as possible, apologizing to her for her unwarranted pain.

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Now, the little bundles of thorns are everywhere. I’ve found them on the porch, my living room floor, in my bathtub and even wedged on the inside of my shoe where my toes sit. I have whelped, cursed and shrieked as I’ve unknowingly sat, squished or stepped on one of these painful menaces.
They are known as sandspurs, but also go by bufflegrasses or sandburs, according to Wikipedia. And, apparently they are a sign that autumn has arrived in Florida.
In North Carolina, we have what are known as “gumballs,” a sort of larger version of the sandspur. They are the seed pod that falls from an American sweetgum tree. However, they are significantly larger, easier to spot and are not sticky like the sandspur.

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Some “gumballs.” Photo from bobklips.com

According to the Okeechobee County Extension Services’ article about sandspurs, author Dan Culbert writes that the sandspur is the “fruit” of the Cenchrus echinatus grass or the C. spinifex plant. During the spring, the plant begins growing seeds and is mostly ignored as it looks like any other blade of grass. When fall comes around, the sandspurs begin emerging and causing havoc. By the time this happens, it’s too late, Culbert writes. You just have to live with it.
“There are no weed killers that will make the sandspurs disappear in the fall. The better approach is to use what are called ‘pre-emergent’ herbicides in the spring — and this means mid February in our area. Then next fall, you’ll be enjoying your Florida yard rather than pulling spines from your socks and Fido’s fur,” Culbert writes.
Sandspurs can also be combated by mowing one’s lawn a particular way before the grass begins producing the sandspurs, once again in February and March.

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A sandspur. Photo from shellkey.org

They have become so numerous because of a change in the Florida landscape, according to an article published by Shell Key in Pinellas County’s Web site by Jack Coletti. In the case of Shell Key, an Australian pine forest was removed because the tree is an invasive species.
“When they were cut, the richer soil was exposed to sunlight, and the sandspurs had a field day (pun intended). Sandspurs are one of those ‘pioneer’ species that will move in to an immature, bare or newly disturbed environment — to restart the eventual progression to a forested area. Once the trees that were planted to replace the pines have matured in a few decades, the sandspurs will eventually die back in numbers out-competed by a balanced and mature ecosystem,” the article states.
Well, I for one, am not planning on planting a forest in my yard. However, hope is on the horizon. The same article says that, “the majority of the burs will have lost most of their sharp points” by the time winter arrives.
This may be the first time in my life I have wished for winter to hurry up and get here. And now, I have learned my lesson and will keep tighter control on how long I let my grass grow and decide on an “eradication plan” for next year’s fruit.

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