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Fouchette/Beggarstick, Delta Journal, Times-Picayune, October 7, 2007, C-11

Delta Journal
by Bob Thomas

One of the world’s wonders is the annual phenology of nature. This is a fancy word that refers to the study of recurring cycles in nature.

Though I always enjoy adventures to the Barataria Unit of the Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve, I especially enjoy day trips in mid-October.

If I visit in the summer, I see largely green tangled masses of emergent and floating vegetation. When I return in October, I am likely to be greeted by a floral splay of radiant yellow, seemingly covering every open area in some parts of the marsh. This view is enhanced if there are white egrets feeding amongst the wetland plants – brilliant white splotches in a sea of resplendent yellow.

This dazzling yellow flower, in all its beauty, has the less than charming name of sticktight, or beggartick. There are actually two species, one is Bidens laevis – for sure abundant in the park - and the other has a much nicer name, Burr-marigold (Bidens cernua).

You know how we are in Louisiana. We have our own name – fouchette.

The two species are easy to tell apart when they flower. Beggartick’s flowers stand straight up, and burr-marigold’s flowers droop down – they are nodding.

There is a connection between nutria and fouchette. These flowers produce a seed that has barbed awns. Plants must have a system for distributing seeds, and fouchette disperses its seeds as “hitch hikers” when they stick on a passing animal and drop off somewhere else.

When the awns hook into the fur and skin of a passing nutria, they may create a tangled mess of hair and usually cause severe dermatitis, thus ruining the pelt’s economic value.

It is strange that in the days when the fur crop of America’s WETLAND was much more important, a plant that provides such floral beauty could have such a devastating affect on the economy!