Count Your Blessings!

With love and passion, everyone can have a nice garden...Elaine Yim

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Count The Garden By The Flowers, Never By The Leaves That Fall.
Count Your Life With Smiles And Not The Tears That Roll.
..... Author unknown.

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Saturday, June 9, 2012

Bidens pilosa - Spanish Needles in my home garden

I found this plant growing wild like a weed near the Seen Hock Yeen Temple in Chemor town in Perak state, Malaysia. I think this is a lovely wildflower. I have also seen this at the rooftop Secret Garden of 1-Utama (my first post about this plant here).

The plant and flowers are much bigger than those of the Coat Buttons (Tridax procumbrens), a common weed we often see growing wild by the roadside.

Scientific name: Bidens pilosa
Family: Asteraceae
Origin: Tropical America
Category: Annual
Photographs taken at: My Home Garden

This plant has many common names, even within the same culture.

English: Black Jack, Spanish Needle, Cobbler's Pegs, Broom Stick, Broom Stuff, Devil's Needles, Beggar Ticks
Australian: farmers friends, pitchforks, sticky beaks

Malay: Ketul (Indonesia), Kancing Baju (Malaysia)
The malay name "Kancing Baju" applies to both Bidens pilosa and Tridax procumbrens even though the are different species.

Chinese: 鬼针草 ('gui zhen cao' meaning ghost needle grass)
Taiwanese: 咸豐草 (xian feng cao where xianfeng is the name of a county in China)
Philipines: Pisau-pisau.
More names from Wikipedia here.

I have collected some seeds from the roadside plants and planted them in my home garden. The seeds germinated fast. This is an annual plant that can grow to about 1m tall.

“Bidens pilosa - Spanish Needles in my home garden”, a copyrighted post, was written for My Nice Garden blog by Autumn Belle @ on June 9th, 2012.

The flowers are hemaphrodite i.e. having both male and female organs.
They attract bees and butterflies. 

The above insect looks like a hoverfly.
With pollen on its hairs and legs, it now seems to be coated with gold!

The seed heads should be collected as soon as the flower heads have dried up.
This is to prevent the "needles" from falling all over the place.

“Beware what you set your heart upon. 
Or it shall surely be yours”
 – Ralph Waldo Emerson

It is an invasive weed in some countries but in Malaysia, it is not as widespread as the Coat Buttons plant. It looks more like a wildflower than a weed. I think it looks like a wild daisy.

My plants were still young. They were just starting to flower. One night, there was a sudden thunderstorm with strong winds and heavy rains. This is what I found when I woke up the next morning. So, that's the end of my Spanish Needles story.

What is your favourite common name for this plant?

Updated on 12 June 2012 - Links for further reading
1. Bidens pilosa looks quite similar to Bidens alba. To differentiate between the two:
a) Ray florets 5-8 per head, rays 10-16 mm long: Bidens alba
b) Ray florets absent or 4-7 per head, rays 2-8 mm long: Bidens pilosa (Wagner et al., 1999; pp. 279-281).

2. Bidens pilosa is an introduced and invasive species in Malaysia.

Reference for (1) and (2) : PIER

3. Beggarticks (Pilosa alba) for Butterfly Gardens - Read the article in Floridata website here.
4. Spanish Needle flowers as a herb in Chinese Medicine - see video at eHow here.
5. Spanish Needle (Bidens species e.g. Bidens pilosa or Bidens alba)  used as an edible weed in "EatTheWeeds:Episode 75:Spanish Needles, Bidens" - see video here.
6. Bidens pilosa has medicinal (traditional and modern) uses, check out GLOBinMED (Institute of Medical Research Malaysia) website here.


  1. How lovely!

    Have a GREAT Weekend!
    Aloha from Waikiki,
    Comfort Spiral
    > < } } ( ° >

  2. I saw a lot of those in Taiwan, and boy are they pretty in masses. They are also growing wild on the road to the Ampang lookout point. The flowers are also edible. The seed gives the genus name - Bidens meaning two teeth.

  3. Lovely flowers but how sad to have it ruined by the storm. Great photos with the bees.

    Cher Sunray Gardens

  4. Spanish needles, DH calls them a weed and doesn't like them :-) because the seeds definitely stick to your clothing, then drop off and grow everywhere. They are tough plants and hard to pull out of the ground. I did NOT plant these they are volunteers from who knows where. I did look them up once years ago and found out what they are. We do pull a lot of them up out of places we don't want them, but they are still all over enjoyed by the flying critters.

    I'm sorry yours got blasted down by stormy weather.


  5. These look lovely. I may have some similar looking plants growing wild in my cat enclosure. I felt sad looking at the after storm pic.

  6. The Butterfly lady recommends them as a nectar plant. I find them to be a noxious weed because the seeds stick to the dog requiring lots of combing.

  7. Spanish Needles--they must be named for the seed heads. I was looking at the flower and wondering why they were called Spanish needles. Now I know why! Sorry they were blown over by the storm--I'm assuming you replanted them? Beautiful blooms!

  8. Cloudia, aloha! I enjoyed all beautiful sceneries in your latest post.

    Sean, thanks for the pointer. Yeah, Bidens meaning 2 teeth and pilosa meaning hairy. I saw mass planting of this plant at the Secret Garden and it attracted butterflies, honey bees as well as carpenter bees. It is indeed lovely.

    Cher, it broke my heart to see the damage.

    FlowerLady, it is indeed hard to pull out. I'm so sorry that it is invasive in Florida.

    Aaron, I have collected some seeds just as the flower heads dried up but before it start to loosen up and fly everywhere. I am planting and experimenting cautiously with this plant.

    MamaPonkey, oh no! The seeds may stick to your beloved cats' fur.

    Nell Jean, this plant is indeed a magnet for honey bees and butterflies at the places I have sited here. In Malaysia, I am not aware of it being invasive but thank you very much for the information. Now I know that it is invasive and a noxious weed in Georgia and Florida.

    Mark and Gaz, thanks!

    Beth, I have germinated some sees. At the moment I have kept only 1 seedling. It has transplanted well.

  9. Lovely flowers! I can see why it is named just that! Luckily you managed to saved seedling, hope it grows well so you may collect more seeds.

  10. aw, too bad the story had to end that way! The seed heads are so pretty... but I guess you wouldn't want them around too long.

  11. That's lovely flower! I think I have sen them too... ;)
    Sorry about the damage after the storm! Hope the little seedling grow up soon to bloom! ;)

  12. Pretty looking flower... don't mind having them in my garden...

  13. Hiszpańskie igły, bo ta nazwa mi się podoba, są bardzo ładne. Mam nadzieję, że mimo straty jednego krzaczka, będziesz miała następne. Pozdrawiam.
    Spanish needle, because the name I like, are very nice. I hope that despite the loss of one bush, you will have next. Yours.

  14. Kitchen Flavours, it seems that the flowers of this plant is used as a herb in Chinese medicine and the leaves are edible (See note 4 and 5 at the bottom of my updated post - click on the link to view the videos).

    Wendy, the seed heads are pretty when forming but I too won't like it when they fall off all over the place and stick onto fur and clothing. There were dried seeds attached to the those that were uprooted but nothing has germinated yet.

    Malar, the seedling is growing nicely, basking under full sun.

    Lrong, in Japanese this plant is called "ko-sendangusa".

    There are some website with information on medicinal uses of Bidens pilosa extract.

    Giga, thanks!

  15. I thought this one was a native cosmos (ulam raja) as it looked so much like it. I had collected it seeds and also compared it with cosmos seeds and found it is so similar except this one has a spiked hook at the front end. (How interesting)
    My mom planted this in her garden but it never seemed to flower except the leaves and the plant grows big. I'm guessing that they flower in poor soil condition only.
    I wonder whether this plant is edible like ulam raja.

  16. The flowers are pretty up close. Most flowering weeds are like that, you don't get to appreciate them that much until you take closer look at it and realize their uniqueness...The hoverfly shot is perfect!

  17. James, it does look like ulam raja, except that ulam raja has pinkish flowers. The flower petals are shaped more like a daisy than cosmos. It seems that this plant is an edible weed and also the extract is used in medicine. See the links at the end of my post.

    Hardinars, you are right. We are too busy to notice the beauty of weeds and volunteer plants but they are important towards the survival of wildlife in the open.

    Diana, the 'Spanish' reference is a mystery waiting to be unveiled. Any Spanish frens who could help here???


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