Common Name
Botanic Name
Xanthium spp.
Plant Family
Cockleburs prefer waste areas and disturbed soils, often around livestock facilities. Cockleburs are especially common around edges of ponds and resevoirs where soil is exposed by the receding water.
Throughout North America
Animals Affected
Pigs, and less often cattle sheep
Toxic Principle
Carboxyactractyloside, a sulfated glycoside, is present in high concentration in the burs and the 2-leafed cotyledonary stage. Toxicity disappears by the 4-leaf stage, and is not present in the mature plant. The liver appears to be the primary target organ. Fatalities occur when 0.75% to 3.0% body weight of cotyledons are consumed. The toxin is a potent inhibitor of oxidative phosphorylation.
Cockleburs are annual, bushy weeds 2-5 feet tall, with stout stems, often with red spots. The leaves are large, rough, glandular, triangular from 2-14 inches long and 1-8 inches wide. Flowers are produced in the leaf axils, the inconspicuous male flowers being clustered at the top, with the larger female flowers towards the base. The characteristic oval burs are covered by hooked spines. Each bur contains 2 seeds which can remain fertile for years.
Vomiting and abdominal pain. The spiny burs are also a mechanical source of injury to animals causing oral injury when consumed.
Supportive therapy may attempted. Mineral oil via stomach tube may help in decreasing further absorbtion of the toxin
Nervous System
Severe depression, ataxia, recumbency and convulsions.
Renal System
Granular and hyaline casts are common in the urine due to renal tubular nephrosis
Integumentary System
The burs also cause economic losses to the wood producer because they become tangled in the fleece.
Hepatic System
Acute hepatitis as indicated by marked elevation of serum liver enzymes. Severe hypoglcemia is a common finding in acute cocklebur poisoning.
Elevated liver enzymes, severe hypoglycemia, granular casts in the urine. Acute, diffuse centrolobular and paracentral coagulative liver necrosis is typical.
Special Notes
Cockleburs are prolific seed producers, and the seeds may remain viable for years before germinating. The plants should be destroyed before they form the burs.
Two leafed stage of cocklebur when it is most tox
Cockleburs (Xanthium spp.)