By Spencer Neuharth
A couple Augusts ago my trail cam revealed a deer that was absolutely covered in vegetation. The wiry, green plants clung to the thin, orange coat of the velvet buck and gave it a natural camouflage. I’d never seen such a thing, and wondered where it came from.
My question was answered about 20 steps later when I unsuspectingly walked into a whole patch of the stuff. The burrs dug into my jeans, t-shirt and backpack and made the rest of the scouting trip unbearable. I often refer to the plant with curse words, but others call it beggar’s lice, creature’s lice, trefoil or stickseed.
Beggar’s lice is a legume with segmented seeds at the end of the stem. Each seed is covered in small hooks, which gives it a Velcro effect when coming in contact with fur or clothes. This is the plant’s dispersal method, which allows it to grab on to passersby and hitch a free ride. This may be a nuisance to humans, but it’s a valuable plant to many animals.
Beggar’s lice is used by tons of insects, like butterflies, bumblebees, caterpillars, moths, beetles and stink bugs. Bigger animals find worth in the plant, too, like hummingbirds, quail, turkey, and even whitetail deer.
For whitetail deer, beggar’s lice is considered a preferred browse. According to QDMA, the plant offers about as much protein as a fellow legume, soybeans. Combine that with its nutty taste, and you can understand why insects, birds and deer alike compete for the plant.
That doesn’t make it any less of a headache for hunters, though. I’ve had to trash a lot of clothes because of the plant, but there are some preventative measures you can take to avoid getting covered in the pods. For one, avoid wearing fleece if you know there’s beggar’s lice in the area. Instead, select for corduroy or nylon clothing. Corduroy is stiff enough to avoid a lot of snags, while nylon is slick enough to easily brush off the seeds.
Another option is to simply avoid the plant, which is regularly found in heavily shaded areas. Since it relies on animals to disperse its seeds, it’s also more likely to be found on game trails than anywhere else. Timing is important for avoiding beggar’s lice, too. The plant develops its seeds in late summer and becomes more brittle as the season progresses. If you walk through beggar’s lice in August, you’ll yank the entire plant out of the ground and be stuck with hundreds of green seeds. If you walk through beggar’s lice in October, you’ll snap the plant at the stem and only be left with a couple brown seeds.
If you do get covered in the Velcro pods, there’s no easy way to remove them. I’ve found that using a stiff comb or butter knife to brush them off is more efficient than hand selecting them one-by-one, though. If that task seems too daunting, consider just making those your “scouting clothes.” I’ve taken that defeat a couple times over and now have a backpack and pair of shoes that are only for my properties with beggar’s lice.
I do grumble a little less when strapping on my beggar’s lice backpack, though, knowing that deer enjoy snacking on them. However, I don’t see myself tilling up a whole food plot for the demonic plant anytime soon.
– Spencer Neuharth