Politics around the globe (thistle)

Globe thistle close up

One of our globe thistles, pre bloom. Shot in July, 2015.

You know you’ve drunk the Koolaid when you’ve just turned in a paper on weeds for an organic horticulture course and it’s all about how amazing they are and why you have them proudly growing smack dab in the middle of a flower bed in your own garden.

One of the weeds I included in my report was Echinops sphaerocephalus L., also known as Globe thistle, Great globe thistle and Chapman honey plant. I like this plant so much that I wrote a love letter to it in a post last year, long before I knew I was going to have to do some research on it. But now that I have, I think this plant is even more amazing. Here’s why:

Originally hailing from various places in Europe and Asia, you can now find globe thistle across most of Canada and parts of the U.S. It’s not listed as an invasive weed everywhere on this side of the pond but it seems to be on most local governments watch sheets. Interestingly, in Alberta (where they’re calling globe thistle “weakly invasive”) researchers are keeping a watch on this plant for its potential in becoming more invasive due to climate change. Evidently the warmer the climate gets, the more globe thistles we may get.

I find it quite ironic that Ontario has it on its most wanted (not in a good way) list of weeds. You can’t say this plant isn’t doing its part to help make the world a little better. One researcher has reported that the plant contains an alkaloid called echinopsin, used for medical purposes in the recovery of chronic radiation sickness. Closer to home, some honey makers in the U.S. often plant globe thistle as a resource crop since bees are so highly attracted to them. The plants produce nectar in abundance.

When I moved into the place I’m in now, this beauty was already well established in one of our backyard flowerbeds.  I don’t know for certain whether it was added to the garden or made itself at home there. My guess is that it was planted intentionally. After all, globe thistle is considered an ornamental rather than a weed by some gardeners and even some enterprising garden centres. Besides, the flowers are spectacular. One globe is actually a cluster of about 100 flower heads, each with its own set of petals.

In part shade (morning and noon light only), my globe thistle sprouts a few more stems each year and, consequently, more flowers. It’s a very healthy plant despite not getting the full sun it ideally needs. And despite its rep as an invasive plant, it’s very well behaved in my garden. It’s never seeded itself in my garden or in neighbouring gardens to my knowledge, probably because most of the gardens around me are part to full shade. I don’t regularly water this bed and I never fertilize. Fortunately, neglect is exactly what these plants love. Maybe its because this bed has poorly draining clay soil, doesn’t get consistent moisture and gets hard packed at times that it does so well—wild pioneering weed that it is. And I’m the happier for it.

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