The beginning of the New Year has been busy with new seeds arrivals. Having a new garden space means also having new plants interests. Therefore, I declare 2016 as The Year of the Thistle!
According to wiki, “Thistle is the common name of a group of flowering plants characterized by leaves with sharp prickles on the margins, mostly in the family Asteraceae”. But besides the ‘true thistles’: Cirsium, Carduus and Onopordum, other genera that don’t have spiny leaves are also included and called thistles: Jurinea, Centaurea, Carthamus, Carlina, Rhaponticum, Echinops, Silybum, Berkheya and so on.
Few plants are more beneficial to bees, bumblebees and butterflies than thistles; also, many birds are consuming their seeds. Quite a few are cultivated as economical/medicinal plants. The oldest cultivated ‘thistle’ in the world was Carthamus tinctorius (safflower).
Unfortunately the name ‘thistle’ brings to mind mostly awful weeds. However, there are many species that are non-invasive and highly ornamental; some are even endangered in their wild habitat! To name only 2 North American Cirsium species that are not weedy and have become endangered: the endemic Cirsium hillii (C. pumilum var. hillii) – seen in the image, and C. pitcheri. Cultivated in the gardens but not too often is Cirsium canum (Queen Anne’s Thistle).
A most interesting genus is Jurinea. These are species familiar mostly to plant collectors; the genus includes alpine/sub-alpine species growing in mountain meadows, a few rare and/or endemics. In the image is shown Jurinea mollis growing in a sub-alpine meadow in the Carpathian Mts.
Other great species practically unknown in cultivation are Jurinea iljinii – with a restricted distribution range in the western part of the Greater Caucasus, and Jurinea sordida endemic in Crimea. They all have in common, non-spiny, finely lobed leaves and purple (in various shades) flower heads, which take on a beautiful silky appearance when the seeds are ripened.
There are also nice, low-growing Jurinea ssp. for the rock garden (if you can find seeds) like J. depressa and J. macrocephala, to name just a couple. From the low-growing thistles category, I will have to contend for now with the alpine thistle: Carlina acaulis. You can read more about it here.
To be continued…