Seed, How-to

How to Make a Goathead Soft

Rica Maestas

Jun 23, 2023

Brought on the bootheels of Spanish invaders, Tribulus terrestris—commonly known as goatheads—are maddeningly adept at flourishing in vacant lots, sidewalk cracks, and disturbed land around the world. Wherever they grow, they are both abundant and despised due to the damage their thorny matts can do to farm animals, bike tires, and bare feet. Unsurprisingly, the majority of related research seeks to aid in their extermination.

Taking the time to study goatheads can unearth vital insights on navigating colonial trauma. Like their invasive carriers, goatheads spread, took root, and have caused serious harm ever since. Though these menacing burrs are often aggravating reminders of our own vulnerability, goatheads are also key examples of how beings shaped by colonialism build and protect community, reinvigorate damaged ecosystems, and seed solidarity across varying experiences of loss and fragmentation. 

How do you learn from a plant that causes so much pain? Make it approachable. Make it soft. 

An illustration that reads "gather materials"

Credit: Hugo Gonzalez.

1. Gather scissors, a sewing needle, thread, recycled fabric, and pliable, recycled filling.  

Goatheads are born as bright-green fruit. Over time, their flesh withers into a spiny pit that protects their delicate vines. The pit is fragile, its fracture inevitable, and when it breaks apart it will wait for years for a chance to flower. Though goatheads’ very presence makes colonization’s lasting footprint painfully manifest, the character of these plants has far more in common with the colonized. Their violent shapes indeed reflect the colonialism that carried them around the world, but it was their patience, adaptability, and capacity for embrace that established lasting root systems across southern Europe and Asia, Africa, New Zealand, Australia, and North America.

An illustration that reads "Fold Fabric and cut"

Credit: Hugo Gonzalez.

2. Fold your fabric into triangular points and cut into symmetrical squares, triangles, or parallelograms. 

Goatheads are not your typical invasive species in what is now known as the Southwest United States. Unlike Siberian elm or saltcedars, which were introduced intentionally and have wreaked havoc on the water table, goatheads arrived accidentally and have made homes of spaces other plants cannot inhabit. Thriving in disturbed ground, goatheads play an important role in the contemporary desert ecosystem, nourishing weevils that feed small animals and serving medicinal purposes. Though their presence is a result of displacement and environmental abuse, goatheads nonetheless participate mutually in their habitat, sustaining a food chain without taking resources from native plants. 

An illustration that reads "sew fabric into a cone"

Credit: Hugo Gonzalez.

3. Press a threaded needle through the narrowest point of your folded fabric and tie a sturdy knot. Secure the disconnected sides of your fabric using the sewing method of your choice, until you have a cone. Invert to hide the seams. 

Imagine a goathead reaching out after losing its softness, its community—after fracturing at its very core. This moment is extremely vulnerable, requiring a thorny exterior for protection. Though coping with trauma by developing tough armor is common, there is a particular poignance for those existing in othered bodies under conditions of settler colonialism. When the dominant social landscape has deemed you a noxious weed, it can be safer to keep others at a distance. But goatheads show us how this lonely and defensive position can be a beginning: We carry seeds of new worlds within us, as well as the endurance, resourcefulness, and receptivity to manifest them.

An illustration that reads "sew two cones together repeat and fill"

Credit: Hugo Gonzalez.

4. Select two spikes and sew their open bases together until one or both lie flat. Attach another spike and repeat until you have connected three to five. Fill their cavities and attach any additional spikes needed to close your goathead.

Just because trauma is shared doesn’t mean those who can relate will necessarily empathize. When you’ve been socialized to hate who you are, your hurt can manifest as repulsion toward, rather than intimacy with, your kin. Audre Lorde describes this phenomenon thusly:

“If I must drink my own blood, thirsting, why should I stop at yours until your dear dead arms hang like withered garlands upon my breast and I weep for your going, oh my sister, I grieve for our gone.

When I read this, I think of my oldest friend, and how we’ve picked at each other for not performing our Indigeneity, Latinidad, and queerness “correctly.” I think of my Brown father, and how we’ve left each other instead of dealing with our shared experiences of rejection, abuse, too-Brown-ness, and not-Brown-enough-ness. I think of my Jewish forebears who snuck into the desert on Spanish bootheels, my Indigenous ancestors who had to make the most of separation from their families and damaged land. And I think of goatheads—how we hate them for surviving the same conditions we struggle to overcome. 

An illustration that reads "connect mulitiple cones and sew closed"

Credit: Hugo Gonzalez.

5. This is the most important step: Once you’ve filled the empty spaces and secured the last stitch, you must spread your soft goatheads. Tell the story of how you made them and why, and the things you thought or learned along the way. 

i reach out

for my pawful of dirt

and instead

you hold my hand.

Leanne Betasamosake Simpson

Ongoing colonial injustice and ancestral trauma is part of us, but so is our capacity to seed new futures for and with our communities. Though it’s understandable to bristle at reminders of our withered softness or broken core, I wonder what networks of care we could create if we view things that hurt us not as evil, but as helpful indicators of how we can heal. If we acknowledge where goatheads are coming from when they reach for us, and feel our pain as interconnected, what new solidarities could we build?

An illustration that reads "spread!"

Credit: Hugo Gonzalez.

1

“Tribulus Terrestris (Puncture Vine).” CABI Digital Library, https://www.cabidigitallibrary.org/doi/10.1079/cabicompendium.54447.

2

“Goathead.” Northern Arizona Invasive Plants, https://nazinvasiveplants.org/goathead.

3

Ibid. 1

4

“Communitree Guidelines for Invasive Species.” The Santa Fe Watershed Association, https://www.santafewatershed.org/invasive-mgmt/.

5

“Puncturevine.” Methow Conservancy, https://methowconservancy.org/weeds/puncturevine.

6

Lorde, Audre. “Eye to Eye:Black Women, Hatred, and Anger.” Sister Outsider, Penguin Books, New York, NY, 2020, p. 150.

7

Simpson, Leanne Betasamosake. “Weather.” Noopiming: The Cure for White Ladies, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, MN, 2021, p. 212.

Rica Maestas is a burqueñx artist, author, educator, and social practitioner working in Albuquerque, NM.

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