Thursday, September 10, 2009


How can anyone not love this flower? It’s probably one of the most photographed of our native wildflowers. You can find this image in all sorts of artwork and craft items. Yet, millions despise this beautiful plant.

Bloom stage or viewing angle makes no difference. People will find any number of compliments for this gorgeous bloom, until you tell them the name. This is Field Thistle, Cirsium discolor. Because of a preconceived notion that thistles are weeds, people will deny insects and hummingbirds this bountiful producer of nectar and deprive Goldfinches of its seed and thistle down. At Blue Jay Barrens the native thistles are welcome.

As blooming progresses, the individual tube flowers roll outward in a seemingly endless procession. Reminds me of sharks teeth constantly coming forward to replace the one that went before.

This thistle bloom is a collection of these individual flowers. Those hairs showing between flowers are the pappus, feathery attachments that allow the seed to float off to new areas. Pappus is what we call the down.

Even when the bloom has passed, the flower is still attractive. What do we want to call this shape? Pineapple? Pin Cushion? Shaving Brush? Sorry, the younger crowd probably doesn’t know what a shaving brush is?

A seed ready to take off. A single plant can simultaneously have all stages of flowering from bud to floating seed.

This is a tall plant with a big flower. It can compete with other tall plants, but it doesn’t seem dominate an area. You can have a huge thistle plant and still have an abundance of other species in the same area.

It blends beautifully with the Indian Grass. The green and purple of the flower compliments the gold and brown of the tall grass.

There is an invasive thistle, called the Bull Thistle, which is similar in appearance to the Field Thistle. A stem bearing spines is a distinguishing characteristic of this foreign invader. The stem of the Field Thistle, shown above, is free of spines. The leaves do have spines, which may contribute somewhat to people’s negative attitude toward this plant.

The Field Thistle also has a white, wooly covering on the underside of the leaves, which is absent in the Bull Thistle.

As with all blue or pink flowers, there is a chance for some blooms to be white. White thistles are not terribly uncommon and some can usually be found in any large field.


  1. Thistle is a beautiful flower and we have it here in Russia too. It usually grows in the fields with other flowers and I like it very much. The blossoms are usually pink and I rarely saw the blue ones but never white.

  2. ...yesterday I posted on thistles at Fort Ancient. Using my wildflower guide, my guess was our native Field Thistle, and your post confirmed it. Just as you posted, its stems had no spines, which is what distinguished it for me.