Sensitive Briar - watch out for claws
By Lynn Post
In the spring and early summer, Sensitive Briar produces a beautiful magenta-pink to lavender puffball flower on a delicate trailing vine that grows from one- to four-feet feet long. The ball-shaped flowers are said to resemble miniature firework explosions.
However, the plant’s proclivity to arm its vine with hooked prickles destroys its somewhat romantic illusion. For this reason, Sensitive Briar is also known as Cat’s Claw because the abundantly barbed stems can be painful to bare skin.
AKA “Bashful Briar,” the plant’s asymmetrical leaves are extremely sensitive to touch, folding into a closed position when disturbed. The leaves alternate on the plant’s stem, appearing as long and slender with leaflets arranged on each side of the leaf stalk, resembling a feather.
This perennial legume makes an all-purpose taste treat for animals and birds. Its foliage is relished by deer, sheep and goats that regularly seek it out. Although the claw-like thorns on the plant’s stem offer it some protection from grazing, the feather-like compound leaves contain a high protein content, making them a target for the delicate grazing ability of livestock and deer.
Sensitive Briar’s seeds are contained within linear ribbed, prickle-covered pods two- to four-inches long. The seedpod resembles a bean, and the seeds make a good meal for all kinds of birds. This plant also attracts bees and butterflies.
Sensitive Briar’s preferred habitat is prairies, roadsides, glades, fields and thin woods. Although it grows best in dry to average soil and full sun, it also can also be found in dry, rocky or sandy soil. As an important indicator of range condition, the plant decreases when overgrazed.
Some deem the drought-tolerant Sensitive Briar suitable for xeriscaping, while others consider it an invasive noxious weed. You be the judge.
The plant self-sows freely, but gardeners who don’t want volunteer seedlings next season are advised to deadhead. If propagation is the plan, allow pods to dry on the plant, then break open and collect seeds. When properly cleaned, seed can be successfully stored.
Sensitive Briar’s scientific moniker is Schrankia uncinata.