Tag Archives: native thistles

Impressive Bull Thistles

Surrounded by wild land, the house yards regularly sprout various wildflowers. This year was the year of the bull thistles.

I feel people recoiling in horror. Thistles are weeds! They have thorns.

There are a number of invasive thistles such as musk thistle. These are not allowed to grow here. Tall and bull thistles are native plants.

Even the native thistles can become weeds. One of the things about them is the tremendous number of seeds they produce. The lawn mower keeps the hordes at bay allowing only a few thistles to grow to maturity.

bumblebee on bull thistles
Every hair like pistil in a bull thistle flower head comes from its own tube flower. The bumblebee works its way around the blooms checking each flower for nectar before moving to the next cluster.

Thistles are a kind of aster. Those pink flower heads are masses of tube flowers, each a well of nectar. That makes thistles popular with insects such as bumblebees.

Hummingbirds like thistles too. They hover near a flower head and sip nectar from each flower before moving to the next breakfast buffet.

This year we had a couple of impressive bull thistles. Most of the plants fall over and send numerous branches skyward to bloom. Or they send up handfuls of stems each trying to be the main stem, but ending up making a thorny bush.

bull thistles can be impressive
The branches on this plant start about waist high on me. The top is a foot or more over my head. New flower heads open as older ones wither to begin forming seeds.

This year two of the thistles sent up single stalks that began branching three feet off the ground. One topped off at five feet. The other was over six feet tall!

As the flowers become seeds, thistles are still popular. This time the warblers and goldfinches hang off the flower heads eating the seeds. Many of the fluffy comas drift away minus their seed burdens. Plenty still have seeds to scatter across the yard.

We had a few years with moth mullein plants occupying the front yard with their short spires of delicate white flowers with purple centers. Then a couple of years hosted regular mullein towering up over their rosettes of huge hairy leaves. This was the year of the bull thistles. What will next year bring?

Enjoy essays about plants and animals from an Ozark year in Exploring the Ozark Hills.