Greater burdock

Greater burdock

Greater burdock ©John Bridges

Greater burdock

Scientific name: Arctium lappa
Greater burdock is familiar to us as the sticky plant that children delight in, frequently throwing the burs at each other. It actually uses these hooked seed heads to help disperse its seeds.

Species information


Height: up to 1.5m

Conservation status


When to see

July to September


Found in scrub, woodland and along roadside verges, Greater burdock is known to many of us as the brown, sticky seed heads that attach themselves to our clothing as we walk through the countryside or attend the allotment. For this reason, it has many other common names such as 'Sticklebacks', 'Sticky Jack' and 'Sticky Bobs'. These hooked seed heads actually help the plant to disperse its seeds by attaching themselves to the fur of passing animals. The flower heads appear from July to September and are attractive to a range of insects, including Painted Lady and Small Tortoiseshell butterflies.

How to identify

A tall plant, Greater burdock has large, downy, heart-shaped leaves with wavy margins. It produces egg-shaped, thistle-like flower heads that appear in loose clusters and eventually give rise to the familiar sticky burs with their large hooks.


Mainly found in Central and Southern England.

Did you know?

The flower heads of Greater burdock form the basis of the traditional 'Burry Man' parade in Edinburgh - dressed head to toe in burs, he walks about the town.

How people can help

The Wildlife Trusts manage many woodland nature reserves sympathetically for the benefit of all kinds of wildlife. A mix of coppicing, scrub-cutting, ride maintenance and non-intervention all help woodland wildlife to thrive. You can help too: volunteer for your local Wildlife Trust and you could be involved in everything from traditional forest crafts to surveying for woodland plants.