Once a common roadside weed, thistles have become less conspicuous in recent years, the result of targeted zapping with herbicides. Thistles are a real nuisance when they seed into agricultural fields, pastures especially, so our highway department has declared war on these prickly but beautiful weeds. Although there are some native thistles, they are more in evidence in forests where enough light gets through the canopy to support herbaceous wildflowers below. These roadside thistles are exotic species.
The Scots have adopted the thistle as their national flower, based on a legend having to do with a run-in that invading barefoot warriors had with a patch of them.
A number of birds eat thistle seeds, which are sold as niger seed for birdfeeders. Goldfinches, which nest later than many of our birds, use the down from thistles and other flowers in their nests.
And is there anything prettier than a butterfly on a thistle? I don’t think so!
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Thistle Farms , an enterprise founded by the Rev. Becca Stephens, a Sewanee grad who is chaplain of Vanderbilt’s St. Augustine’s Chapel. They have developed a line of soaps, balms, and other products, which they manufacture and sell in 200 stores and on-line. Lavender for their products is grown at St. Mary’s, right here in Sewanee.