This is a biennial thistle which grows on roadsides and waste places and is a wildflower more known for its 'burrs' than its reddish-purple flower-heads which precede them. A robust and downy plant, it stands about 50cm high and bears its flowers in egg-shaped heads (15-30mm across) on open spikes. The flowers, which bloom from July to September, are rayless and surrounded by hooked bracts which form the 'burrs'. These last through winter, sowing the enclosed seeds very cleverly by attaching themselves to passing animals. The leaves are large with wavy margins and strongly marked veins. This is a native plant belonging to the family Asteraceae.
My earliest record of this plant is in 1978 beside the Canal in Vicarstown, Co Kildare and I photographed it at Kilmore Quay, Co Wexford in 2007.
If you are satisfied you have correctly identified this plant, please submit your sighting to the National Biodiversity Data Centre
17th century herbalist, Nicholas Culpeper wrote of Lesser Burdock: 'the seed being drunk in wine forty days together, doth wonderfully help the sciatica' and also 'the juice of the leaves, or rather the roots themselves, given to drink with old wine, doth wonderfully help the bitings of serpent'.
Our own folklore says 'Burdock is used to cure skin diseases'* and in fact it is used in our modern medicinal preparations for the same conditions. It is also one of the foremost detoxifying herbs in Chinese medicine.
*From the National Folklore Collection, University College Dublin. NFC S 455:234 From Co Kerry.
It also was the inspiration for the invention of a most useful product which was created in the 1940's by a Swiss engineer, George de Mestral, who when removing the burrs from his dog's fur and his own clothing, realised that its hooks and loops could be replicated to good effect. This he did, calling it 'Velcro' - velour and crochet (hook).