The thistle-down floats on the air, the air,
Whenever the soft wind blows,
And the wind can tell just where, just where
The feathery thistle-down goes.
And it tells the bird in a single word,
Who whispers it low to the bee,
And they try to keep the mystery deep,
And none of them tell it to me.
But I know well, though they never will tell,
Where the thistle-down goes when it says “Farewell,”
It floats and floats away on the air,
And goes where the wind goes – everywhere!
-Arthur Macy (public-domain-poetry.com)
The thistle is a member of the largest plant family, the Asteraceae or Compositae. There are over 200 known varieties of thistle. Among the most common are the milk, plume, musk, star and spear thistles. Some varieties are edible, some medicinal and some are considered noxious weeds. Most thistles reproduce rapidly and an ungerminated seed can remain viable for up to nine years. Thistle varieties have common traits like green to blue-green foliage, covered with needle-like spines and blue, purple, pink, or yellow flowers encased in deeply toothed leaves.
The cotton thistle, Onopordum Acanthium is the national emblem of Scotland. A hearty biennial, this tough and prickly plant became the savior of the Scottish, according to legend. Depending upon which version you read, (during the times of the Vikings or Dane invasions) it is said that an unlucky barefoot soldier stepped on a prickly thistle, causing him to scream out in pain – alerting the unsuspecting and sleeping Scottish Clansmen to a surprise night attack – which ultimately ended in a victory for the Scots.
One of my favorite garden varieties – the globe thistle, Echinops sphaerocephalus is a herbaceous perennial with an average height of 2 to 4 feet tall. It is a great drought resistant non-invasive variety and the purple blue globular blooms attract many pollinators and beneficial insects – like bees, butterflies, and lady bugs.
Artichokes and cardoons are members of the thistle family , as well. They can make quite the architectural statement in the garden, and are edible. Both plants derive from the edible Cynara cultivars, used by early farmers in the Mediterranean. Unlike the artichoke, the cardoon’s edible part is the fleshy stalk which is fibrous and covered in thorns. The process of getting the versatile cardoon to an edible stage is labor intensive, but the flesh is flavorful and worth the effort.
Beyond a ridge of pine with russet tips
The west lifts to the sun her longing lips,
Her blushes stain with gold and garnet dye
The shore, the river and the wide far sky;
Like floods of wine the waters filter through
The reeds that brush our indolent canoe.
I beach the bow where sands in shadows lie;
You hold my hand a space, then speak good-bye.
Upwinds your pathway through the yellow plumes
Of goldenrod, profuse in August blooms,
And o’er its tossing sprays you toss a kiss,
A moment more, and I see only this –
The idle paddle you so lately held,
The empty bow your pliant wrist propelled,
Some thistles purpling into violet,
Their blossoms with a thousand thorns afret,
And like a cobweb, shadowy and grey,
Far floats their down – far drifts my dream away.
-Emily Pauline Johnson (public-domain-poetry.com)