August 9, 2010


Despite its prickly presence, I am especially fond of the form of the thistle. There is drama in the spiky leaves and stem; the spines of the bracts look as if they grow in the spiral of the Golden Section (which I wrote about here); the vase shape is topped by the burst of the reddish violet flower head, with crowded thin petals (are these called petals?) soft, yet echoing the spines below. This is a plant that seems to have been designed by an architect, or someone else of similar orderly sensibility.

The clarity of form continues with the seeds, which flow out of the dried flower head. I had never noticed these seeds before; they are really beautiful, each little seed attached to a cup of golden silk, the whole looking like a grandiose hairdo. The way the silk is gathered at the seed reminds me of the seeds of the milkweed, which you can see here.

I love the flower head of this thistle-like plant, with its marvelous color change from pink to purple to white. The spiny bracts have little incurving hooks on their ends , adding a bit of whimsy. These are atop what now seem ordinary––leaves, rather than spikes and spines––the whole making an interesting story of contrasts.


  1. Thistles and Burdocks! Wonderful. They get more hate than love, so it's good to appreciate their forms and colors.
    Being in the aster family, the flower heads are compact collections of tiny florets -- each one has a little corolla-tube, and a pistil, and usually five tiny stamens. The silky fibers -- thistle down or dandelion parachutes -- are actually modified sepals, called pappus. They're worth opening up to look at closely, though approaching thistles is a job for leather gloves.

  2. Susan, thanks as always for your very informative comments; so that other plant is a burdock! I'll have to try to get a photo of the flower heads close up to see the structure that you describe.

  3. Interesting these thistle photos Altoon and your commentary - and Susan's comments. I should rather like to add the seed head to the homage blog images - Im now wondering of you will take and add more images.
    What was Susan referring to with the Burdocks?
    I took it that all three images were from the same thistle plant. Fascinating seed head.

  4. Sophie, I'm not the naturalist Susan is and she pointed out that the third photo is a burdock not a thistle.

  5. Living in Scotland and being a trainee gardener, ive always wanted to grow a bed of thistles of different kind.Ive looked at loads of different pictures of thisles but the only kind i can find in my area are Bull,Creeping and Marsh thistles.I really like the look of the Elk thisle and Canadian one.I would like to grow others form around the world but some wont grow hear cause of the cold.Does any one sell seeds of thistles? or could post me some i would be very greatfull.

    1. hi Sam, sorry but I don't know of thistle suppliers. I've seen the spectacular Scotch thistle grown in a garden here, but I imagine you've got plenty of that.