Excerpts from Jim Conrad's
Naturalist Newsletter

Beggar's Lice, MYOSOTIS DISCOLOR, plant

from the the April 29, 2012 Newsletter issued from the woods of the Loess Hill Region a few miles east of Natchez, Mississippi, USA

Earlier this week mornings were so chilly -- down to 49°F (9°C) -- that I wore shoes and socks until it warmed up. You can see what my shoes and socks looked like after wandering around one morning below:


Several kinds of plants produce stickery little fruits like that and they all can be called Beggar's Lice. When I tracked down the plant attaching its "lice"   to me, it was what's shown at the top of this page. Several beggar's-lice-producing plants are similar to that, so before being sure what I really had I had to "do the botany." Here are details I focused on:

Leaves and stems were hairy, and leaves were rounded toward the base, sometimes clasping the stem, as shown below:

Beggar's Lice, MYOSOTIS DISCOLOR, hairy stem & leaves

A close-up of a "beggar's louse" is shown stuck in my arm hairs below:

Beggar's Lice, MYOSOTIS DISCOLOR, detached calyx with hooked hairs, stuck in arm hairs

That last picture is sort of tricky. For, you expect the thing stuck to you to be a fruit with hooked spines, but the thing in the picture isn't a fruit. It's actually a baglike calyx surrounding much smaller fruit-like things. I crumbled some calyxes between my fingers and part of what resulted is shown below:

Beggar's Lice, MYOSOTIS DISCOLOR, crumbled calyxes among shiny nutlets

The four shiny things are not seeds. Maybe you've seen that the ovary of most mint flowers is divided into four more-or-less distinct parts. Each of those parts is called a nutlet, and that's what you're seeing. But other plant families beside the Mint produce nutlets.

Our beggar's-louse-producing plant is MYOSOTIS DISCOLOR, a member of the Borage Family, the Boraginaceae, which on the phylogenetic Tree of Life is adjacent to the Mint Family. Myosotis discolor is an invasive from Europe that so far has set up residence here and there in eastern and western North America, but so far seems to be absent in the center.

The English name is often given as Changing Forget-me-not, because Myosotis is the Forget-me-not genus, and in Latin dis-color says "two-colored," apparently referring to the fact that the flowers can be white or blue, though all I've seen here are white. But, this rangy little plant you never notice until its calyxes stick to you seems to have nothing to do with Forget-me-nots, unless you look at technical features. I think some editor must have made up the name "Changing Forget-me-not." Our plant very clearly is one of several "Beggar's Lice."