How to Grow Acaena Plants in your Garden

Gardener's HQ Guide to Growing New Zealand Bur, Bidibid, Purple Goose Leaf, and Greater Burnet

The common names for the fast growing low-growing Hardy perennial Acaena include New Zealand Bur, Bidibid, Purple Goose Leaf, and Greater Burnet.

They typically flowers from July until the first frost.

Acaena magellanica (Greater Burnet) picture by Liam Quinn

This plant can tolerate being trod on, and thus makes a great plant to grow inbetween paving stones.

It also makes a fast growing Ground cover, but may need to be controlled.

The Acaena genus belongs to the Rosaceae family, and consists of approximately one-hundred species, most of which are native to the southern hemisphere.

Be sure to check out my Acaena microphylla specific growing guide.

Description of Acaena inermis purpurea and similar species

Acaena species such as Bidibid, New Zealand Bur and Purple sheep's burr have brightly coloured leaves and burs, making it an ideal plant for rockeries.

The very small flowers have no petals and form globes.

Acaena novae-zelandiae is a small evergreen Alpine plant, and in addition to New Zealand it is a native plant in South America and Australia.

This species is considered to be invasive in the united kingdom.

Acaena novae-zelandiae
Acaena novae-zelandiae photograph by Macleay Grass Man

Common Species

Acaena inermis purpurea has alternate pinnate leaves of about 7 cm (2 1/3 inchs); these are usually purple to brown.

Acaena microphylla is low growing with bronze leaves.

Acaena inermis purpurea
Acaena inermis purpurea photograph by FarOutFlora

How to Grow Acaena

It is best to plant outside, either after the last frost or in the autumn.

It typically takes between one and three months to germinate at a temperature between 10 to 15 degrees celcius (50 to 59°F).

They should be spaced 8 to 12 cm (3 to 5 inches) apart and planted to a depth of 1/2 cm (1/4 inch).

They prefer light, but can be grown in full sun or part shade. They prefer a sandy or gritty soil, and can will die if left in standing water.

If starting the plant off inside it should be planted twelve weeks before planting out.

Caring for Acaena

Acaena is not a very difficult plant to grow. It is important not to water it from above to prevent standing water. Supply winter mulch at high Northern latitudes. Cut back by clipping in the spring.

Acaena microphylla
Acaena microphylla by Wallygrom

Acaena Growing and Care Guide

  • Scientific and Common Names: Acaena exigua (Liliwai - Now thought Extinct); Acaena inermis (New Zealand Burr); Acaena inermis 'purpurea' (New Zealand Purple Burr); Acaena microphylla (Bronze New Zealand Burr, Sheep Burr); Acaena pinnatifida (Argentinian biddy-biddy); and Acaena magellanica (Buzzy burr, Greater burnet).
  • Growing Zone (USA / UK Hardiness): 5 to 8 / H5, Hardy to —15°C (5°F).
  • Best used for: Ground cover, Rock Garden, Containers, Edging.

Plant Details

  • Life Cycle / Plant Type: Subshrub, Perennial, Evergreen
  • Plant Height: 2 to 4 inches (5 to 10 cm)
  • Plant Spread: 12 to 40 inches (30 to 100 cm)
  • Blooms: Summer
  • Flower Details: Tiny. Brown or white. Petal-less. Dense head — forms a 1 to 2 cm (0.4 to 0.8 inch) Globose
  • Leaf Foliage: Purple, green. ALternate. Pinnate. 4 to 15 cm (1 2/3 to 6 inches) long.
  • Fruit: Seed ball. Red-brown. Barbed arrow-head burr.

Growing Conditions

  • Best Light Conditions: Full sunlight or Partial shade.
  • Suitable Soil Types: Average, sandy.
  • Soil Soil Moisture:Well drained. Dry.
  • Propagation: Gently break and divide clumps in spring or autumn (as long as the soil is fairly dry).
  • Acaena Care: Cut back in spring and remove rooted stems from areas that you do not want it to grow.

Further Information

Common Questions

How many members does the Acaena genus have?

The Acaena genus comprises around 60 species of perennial herbs, mostly native to the Southern Hemisphere.

Do members of Acaena make a good garden or landscaping plant?

Yes, members of the Acaena genus make excellent ground cover due to their mat-forming growth habit. They are ideal for rock gardens and borders.

Which Acaena species are most frequently grown by gardeners?

The most commonly grown Acaena species is Acaena microphylla (New Zealand Burr), recognized for its bluish-green leaves and red burr-like fruits.

Are members of the Acaena plant genus fragrant?

No, members of the Acaena genus are not known to be fragrant. Their appeal lies in their unique foliage and fruit.

What is the perfect location to grow Acaena?

Acaena plants prefer full sun to partial shade and well-drained soil. They can tolerate poor soil and are fairly drought-resistant once established.

Is Acaena invasive in the USA, if so in which states?

Yes, some Acaena species, such as Acaena novae-zelandiae, are considered invasive in some regions of the USA, including California and the Pacific Northwest.

How do I remove Acaena plants from my garden?

To remove Acaena from your garden, pull out the plants manually, ensuring to remove the roots to prevent regrowth. Persistent removal or herbicides may be needed for larger infestations.


The Acaena genus, part of the Rosaceae family, includes around 60 species of evergreen, perennial plants, often referred to as New Zealand burrs. Native to the Southern Hemisphere, they are low-growing and spreading in nature, producing small, inconspicuous flowers and prickly burr-like fruit.

Acaena plants thrive in full sun to partial shade and require well-drained soil. They are versatile plants, suitable for rock gardens, borders, or as ground cover. These plants can handle drought conditions once established and can spread quite aggressively under ideal conditions. The attractive foliage is often used in ornamental arrangements.

I hope that you enjoyed this guide on how to grow Acaena plants. You may also enjoy the following Rosaceae growing guides:

How to grow Rosa multiflora and Waldsteinia ternata.