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X-blanking puncturevine

April 21, 2010

I have no love for tumbleweed, but it’s not a force of evil in my life. I’m not a major landholder and I don’t manage irrigation canals, so the noxious plant and I keep our distance and glare at each other from across the ditchbank.

Puncturevine, on the other hand . . . for puncturevine I harbor a more active hatred, a seething need for revenge, a desire to strangle the life out of the plant.

You see, this is personal. This plant has cost me money, and it has caused me pain.

I am a commuter bicyclist. I use my bike to get around, and also for recreation.

I was traveling happily around town, documenting the Monument Valley Pathway, when I stopped at one point to take a picture and noticed something sticking out of my tire.

Huh. A thorn.

I looked around, and didn’t see anything thorny-looking. I figured it must have fallen from some landscape removal project or something.

You’d think I would have been warned by the statement I saw in a planning document for the Monument Valley Pathway:

The all weather trail will be a vast improvement to the puncture vine covered canal road currently used by walkers.

But I remained innocent for a few weeks longer. I biked over to the Monument for a hike, then biked home. With about a mile left in my journey, I noticed something wasn’t quite right. Stopped, and found the back tire was squishy. Looked further, and . . . another thorn in the tire. Pulled it out, and heard “pshhhhhhhhhh”.


Pumped up the tire enough to make it almost the rest of the way home, walked the last few blocks, and decided to look up this thing called “puncturevine”.

These silly guys demonstrate the bicycle hazards of puncturevine/goathead.

The puncturevine seeds in the wanted poster above were picked out of the bottoms of my shoes after a one-block walk through a weedy yard. They are everywhere!

I had an a-HA! moment when I read that it’s not the plant stems that harbor the nasty thorns, it’s the little seeds. The plant looks completely innocent until you look at the fruiting body. The “nutlets” have the awful, thumbtack-like spines. The baby plants within those spiny cocoons can last for decades in the environment, and in a good year, a single plant can produce some 5,000 of those little suckers! And these plants grow very well in dry, disturbed environments . . . like the miles and miles of weedy fields, ditchbanks, and roadsides we have in this part of Nebraska.


Since the flat tire incident, I’ve punctured my feet a few times, too. Not because I’ve been walking barefoot in weedy areas, but because I’ve been walking barefoot in my own home. The x-blanking goatheads get stuck in shoes, get tracked into the house, and then pierce my epidermis. Owie! (Shoes off in my house, people! Don’t want goatheads lying around.)

I am not good at patching bike tires, and I was about to give up on riding my bike any distance around here when I got some advice from my Facebook peeps: go to Sonny’s Bike Shop in Scottsbluff (1717 E. Overland).

Yes, indeedy, the folks at Sonny’s know about puncturevine.

This is your bike tire. This is your bike tire on puncturevine. Any questions?

And they have a solution: super-thick inner tubes, lined on the outside with the slit remains of your wimpy, thin inner tubes.

So, husband and I shelled out to get our bikes upgraded with inner tubes appropriate for puncturevine country, and, so far, so good.

But I still loathe this plant.

I have been studying the photos on a University of Calfornia-Davis website, so I will know the living plant when I meet one.

And I am studying up on how to get rid of them. There are several control methods.

The best option is to pull up the plant by its taproot, preferably before it fruits, and bag or burn it. The folks at Idaho Weed Awareness Campaign show you how.

Unleash the beasts: weevils can be used for biological control in badly infested areas, but when the puncturevine population crashes, so will the weevil population (classic predator/prey dynamic), and the plants can then get a head start on a new infestation.

Burn, baby, burn! The favorite pyromaniac option, burning can also be used to kill off puncturevine, but be careful, only YOU can prevent out-of-control weed fires.

In some cases, herbicides, mulches, and competitive exclusion by desirable plants can work.

For the best local advice, contact your Nebraska extension office.

With springtime advancing, puncturevine hunting season will soon begin. Join me. Become part of the anti-goathead minion. Bwahaha! Let’s kill off these nefarious plants once and for all!

Copyright 2010 by Katie Bradshaw

26 Comments leave one →
  1. michael sicurello permalink
    April 21, 2010 12:32 pm

    “a seething need for revenge”.. I like you already!

    Those super thick inner tubes must weigh 5 pounds each!

    Seems like they have to be standard gear where you live..

    In Tucson we have trees with thorns… if you avoid running over sticks, you are ok… but a bi-monthly tube change is almost de rigueur..

    Happy Trails!

    • Katie Bradshaw permalink
      April 22, 2010 10:40 am

      I didn’t think to ask how much the thick tubes weigh. I bet the difference would be noticeable on a racing bike. As the next commenter says, there’s also kevlar inner tubes available, though I’m betting they’re more expensive.

  2. Coyotefred permalink
    April 21, 2010 2:03 pm

    Ah…the joys of puncturevine. ‘Nice post–and entertaining. I’ve had success with kevlar bike tires that aren’t nearly as heavy/bulky as those tubes, so you might consider that option. The “slime” definitely DOES NOT work : /

    As far as control, a couple of ideas. Tribulus seeds are nearly indestructible and remain viable in the soil for many, many years. So you will pay for the sins of your former landowners if they didn’t control them. Burning, in my experience, won’t do much of anything to help. However, the young puncturevine is very distinctive as a seedling and once you identify, it is VERY easily killed with even very-low concentrations of any over-the-counter broadleaf herbicide (or of course the non-selective glyhposate “Roundup” products or generics). And compared to other non-native invasives which produce thousands of seeds per plant, thankfully puncturevine only produces seeds in the dozens. So if you can jump on it early and prevent it from going to seed for a few years, you can make dramatic progress compared to some of our other local “friends” like kochia and cheatgrass. I too was intrigued by the biocontrol options of the puncturevine weevil, but I don’t believe they can survive our winters and I think you need to have a BUNCH to make a difference. I’m no fan of 2,4-D and similar chemicals, but I’m less of a fan of puncturevine 🙂

    Once the plant has matured to produce seeds, pulling is the only option. I’ve found the best solution is one of those 3-4 “fingered” hand-weeders. Each puncturevine plant is likely a nasty prickly octopus with all “legs” leading back to the center with a relatively shallow taproot. Find the center, dig the “fingers” of your tool down and underneath the “center” and gently and slowly pull up…careful…those seeds easily fall off. Deposit them in the trash or a sacrifice “compost pile” you won’t be using for years.

    And if you can’t beat it–eat it! Apparently more than a few folks buy tribulus supplements for supposed “hormone-increasing” capabilities…to increase performance in the weight room–and the bed room! 😉 If you’re very careful you can chew on the seeds–green are obviously safer then the dried ones! They actually taste pleasant to me…like an earthy tea…and they do give me a pleasant buzz like a lower-caffeine tea would. I have yet to experience any dramatic enhancements in the previously-mentioned departments, however…purely in the interests of science of course…

    • Katie Bradshaw permalink
      April 22, 2010 10:42 am

      Wow! Thanks for the plant-killing advice!

      I’d read about the supposed hormonal impacts of puncturevine, but I didn’t see any scientific evidence of efficacy in humans, so I mentally filed it under “quackery”. Plus, if it can poison sheep, maybe it’s not such a good idea to eat it? :-/

      • Eric Ketchum permalink
        December 3, 2012 7:47 am

        Try passing a sewing needle through a piece of kevlar. It will pass through with no resistance just like it would with any other fabric. Kevlar was developed to dissipate the energy of speeding bullets and was not made to protect from sharp things like knives or goatheads. That’s why kevlar IS a joke when used in a bicycle tire. Sorry, but that’s the truth. I am speaking from experience, just like when I say that Slime works pretty well.

  3. April 21, 2010 10:41 pm

    I’m with you all the way on this one!!!!

  4. Eric Ketchum permalink
    August 9, 2012 3:53 pm

    I grew up in Scotts Bluff County and I know what you’re up against. Puncture vine (aka goatshead stickers) is the bane of the bicyclist. Many beginner mountain bikers and even some enthusiasts have given up riding because they are so bad there. It’s also frustrating because the bicycling industry as a whole doesn’t take puncture resistance seriously. I have tried everything. Believe me, I know what the best solution is: Bontrager Hard Case tires. Sonny’s used to sell them and I bet they can order them for you if they don’t stock them anymore. They come in several sizes and tread patterns to suit your riding style (I looked them up on Bontrager’s website two weeks ago so I’m sure you can still get them). Tire liners, Slime, puncture-resistant tubes, kevlar (a joke), bicycle pumps, all don’t compare to these tires. And soo much simpler than those other “solutions” that add weight, complexity, and rolling resistance to your bike. They may seem expensive, but are actually very reasonable when you consider going with liners, heavy tubes, emergency pump, and Slime instead. Hope I was helpful, Eric

    • Katie Bradshaw permalink
      August 9, 2012 7:15 pm

      Thanks for the input, Eric. So far, my thick inner tube and lined tires are doing the trick on my commuter bike, but it may be a different story if I get a road bike.

  5. Eric Ketchum permalink
    August 9, 2012 4:00 pm

    Oh, one more thing: The only real way I know of to eradicate puncture vine is to burn them in a burn barrel. Spraying, composting, or throwing in the garbage only temporarily helps the problem and usually only passes the problem to someone else. I know city ordinance usually prohibits burning inside city limits, but that’s one of the reasons puncture vine is such a big problem. Again, hope I was helpful, Eric

    • Katie Bradshaw permalink
      August 9, 2012 7:16 pm

      My strategy in the ally behind my house is to hoe the little suckers into oblivion before they have a chance to bloom!

  6. Terri permalink
    December 2, 2012 5:51 pm

    We just bought a little acreage in Torrington filled with puncture vine. I’m thinking of experimenting with the weevils – maybe I can grow a few fines inside the barn to overwinter?

    • Katie Bradshaw permalink
      December 3, 2012 5:34 am

      I hear that goats can help control the stuff, too. They can apparently eat the whole plant – seeds and all!

      • Terri permalink
        December 3, 2012 7:08 am

        I have a friend who raises goats and they don’t. But another friend says she got rid of them with geese. However, then you have to protect the geese from predators. Truly this is a devil weed!

      • Katie Bradshaw permalink
        December 3, 2012 7:12 am


  7. July 20, 2014 12:38 pm

    The weevils work. Seed weevils lay eggs on green seed pods, and emerging larvae bore into the seedheads, and eat the seeds inside. The stem weevils eggs hatch on the stem and larvae bore into the stem, they emerge a month later. Chewing their way out of the plant. Think invasion of the body snatchers, as they eat their host from the inside out. The adult weevils also chew on the weed, and the cycle begins again, until the weeds are dead. The beetles eat nothing but puncturevine. Now that is revenge on puncturevine.

  8. Terri permalink
    July 22, 2014 8:41 pm

    My weevils are coming on Thursday. I can’t wait to see them and pray they start working. we have a heated quonset workshop, I will try to get them to overwinter.

    • Terri permalink
      July 25, 2014 6:53 am

      Weevils released and hopefully eating and laying eggs. It’s a 25 day life cycle – I’ll let you know.

      • John Connett permalink
        April 9, 2015 8:29 am

        Hi Terri, I would like to visit about the weevils. I released some in Torrington in 2014. jconnett at – John

  9. Dion permalink
    July 21, 2015 5:09 am

    DIY extra thick bicycle inner tubes

    For those like me, who are not fortunate to live near sonnys bike shop in scottsbluff, what I suggest, is that when you catch your next flat, (god forbid it,) and are changing your tire, take the now punctured inner tube, cut only the stem valve off, and carefully place it flatly back inside the tire, carefully lining the tire bottom with it. Then insert your new fresh working inner tube on top of it. This will give the new inner tube 4x greater extended thickness protection against goat heads, staples, and nails. Since using this idea on all my bikes, me personally, I’m still waiting for another flat.

    Hope this helps.


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