Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Large Cocklebur - How Velcro Came From Nature

The origins of the large Cocklebur (Xanthium strumarium) are unknown, but it is suspected that they originally hailed from Central and South America, even though they were first mentioned in European literature. But they are known to have been used by the Zuni, Native Americans for medicinal purposes. This even though the plant is toxic and can actually kill a cow.

The burs in the picture are so large, about an inch (~ 2.5 cm) that at first, I didn't make the connection with the familiar to me smaller "Klette" I grew up with in the Alpine regions of Europe. As I shot this on January 1st (winter), there weren't any leaves to help me identifying the plant either. I finally found a picture with similar burs that led me to desertusa.com where I was able to give them the proper name.

I also learned that they belong to the sunflower family Asteraceae. The species I found was about three feet tall, right in the middle of their normal size. Around here (Central Texas) they are considered a weed and a pest, as they not only can harm an animal with its toxins, but also mechanically if they should swallow whole burs. They also use the furs of animals to spread itself.

That function of hook and loop was later adopted, when Swiss electrical engineer George De Mestral  came up with the Velcro idea, after taking his dogs on a mountain hike in Switzerland. After a ten year search to find the right materials, he patented the fastener as Velcro (a combination of the French words velours (velvet) and crochet (hook.)

Sources: Wikipedia, desertusa.com, http://keys.lucidcentral.org/, thetandd.com

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