Thursday, June 28, 2012

Thistle thistle burning bright....

I know, I know, they are dreadful weeds, and prickly at that. Of course, there do exist rare, endangered thistles, and even thistles that are even hard to grow. But we are not talking about those obscure, recondite thistles. Here I mean to speak of the unspeakable, namely donkey farts (Literal translation of Onopordon), which are bona fide weeds no matter how you slice it. Why are such bristly, painful, nasty and otherwise so unpleasant...saddled with an ignominious Latin name, why on earth would I blog about these? Because, my dear, I love them. And I'm not even Scots.

These are rosettes of the stemless donkey fart (Onopordon acaule) which has become a sort of signature plant in my garden. I have let it naturalize and some years there are a few dozen of these scattered around my garden causing ordinary garden visitors a great deal of chagrin. You can't imagine how much I enjoy watching generic gardeners cringe. But most imaginitive gardeners are frankly quite jealous, and you'd be surprised how many beg seeds of these from me (they have to beg very very hard to get a pinch of seed, and then I give them just a little and they have to promise to not let the plants go wild)...I never give seed to anyone who lives near wild spaces...growing this sort of thistle in your garden is akin to keeping lions and tigers as pets: advisable only for those who can go the full length of protecting themselves and others from their terrible symmetry.

The first picture, by the way, was Onopordon acanthium, the impossibly elegant and truly weedy true Scotch thistle. Like all admirers of all things Scots, I realize one only is supposed to use the epithet "Scotch" to refer to the wonderful whisky...but I think the common name for this thistle is well esconced. And who in their right mind would ever say Scots' tape (come to think of it)?

 I believe it may be one of the most gorgeous and statuesque of all weeds--a match to any fussy ornamental in elegance and beauty. I have encouraged a small colony to naturalize in my immediate neighbor's garden adjacent to mine, so I can enjoy the spectacle and yet pretend to eschew responsibility...but spitefully, one rosette popped up on West Ridge, and I was too weak willed and just plain bad to weed it out: this year it has delighted me for weeks with its ghostly elegance.

The last shot is of the stemless species when the seeds explode: that is the time for action! I hoe them all out (in the process, a few seed escape and pop up next spring in just enough numbers to satisfy my wanton, weedy cravings)....I suppose in a very conceptual, abstract way they depict in sculptural form at this puffy stage what a donkey fart might look like--painted by Salvador Dali, perhaps.

Pity the fussy gardeners who are denied the pleasure of gorgeous weeds. I have been accused of loving every plant on the Planet, and I suppose I may be guilty of that (any creature that can magically create carbohydrates from a dash of water and a splash of sun is pretty awesome in my book) but weedy or no, the sumptuous silvery-white wedding cake-snowflake majesty of onopordons is as essential to me as the occasional (very occasional) powdered sugar dusted doughnut...and probably as reprehensible!


  1. Such an effective defense mechanism. Capable of defeating armies and the lone individual who does not pay attention. Thistles are disliked because they are who they are: a thorn in our side whether we like it or not. Now that is something I can respect.

    Nice post, glad I stopped by!

  2. Oh dear...I love them too...especially those REALLY silvery ones...ever since I was a kid and they showed one on The Victory Garden. I've settle on Echinops...which isn't quite the same, I know, but they still fulfill my love of thistles. Oh...and there is a wild one growing down the street that I'm definitely going to collect seed from this fall ;-)


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