Coming up the path from the beach, he begins to emit a subdued mewling, and he is limping. He stops and allows me to run my hands over his body and pads. One was knotted in his fur and pressing into his belly, and the other had clenched itself just below a nail where it dug deeper with every step. I slowly pried loose two ‘hitchhiker’ seed pods, these belonging to a species of grasses called Cenchrus, also Hedgehog Grass, its rolled up package adorned by very sharp spikes — its dominant feature. More commonly, it is known as the Sandbur.
When I rolled it between my fingers, I thought of caltrops, those awful weapons used against war horses on the battlefield and by mobs against police horses, and then of the terrible spiked heads of Cenobites from the Hellraiser films. These little carriers have the faint scent of the nightmare about them. Under magnification though, my respect for them grew.
The shell is thick and hard to cut, and thus offers another layer of formidable protection to the three teardrop-shaped white seeds spooning within. They evolved to catch fur and then to be scratched out or rubbed away by a frantic animal and thus dispersed. Ninety-five percent of those that are buried germinate within two years.* That is a stunning figure. I do not know of any other living thing that approaches its survivability, and it has been with us for a very long time — its ancestors go back 100 million years. It is not only lions and tigers and bears … and us … who have evolved such efficient methods of defense and attack.
Wolfie trots away, dog-happy in the sun, and I fasten the pods into a plastic bag to bring home and go a little deeper into them. Dogs have us to try to keep them from harm and to brood for them over burrs and ticks and heartworm and all manner of nature’s assault.