Thistledown – beauty from a painful source


I was enjoying lunch on our back deck when I noticed a delicate bit of fluff soaring up from the ground below. I watched in lazy amusement as it circled overhead and drifted off. As it floated away, a word from the distant past came to mind, thistledown.

I had never recalled using the word before, so I was still mulling it over in my mind as a dozen more of these soft, feathery bits of fluff floated up past the deck railing and drifted past.

I tracked down the source of this thistledown and found the thistle plants that were releasing these seeds into the light breeze.


Our thistles have thrived this year and reach heights of seven feet in some cases. The purple blooms and the bright green foliage with wicked thorns add a dramatic accent to our local lansdcape. They attract bees and butterflies while repelling deer and homeowners.


The leaves and stalks have extremely sharp "prickles" according to Wikipedia. The prickles are more like barbed needles than thorns and they will pierce tough bluejeans and your skin with the slightest contact. These prickles also seem to leave a lasting sting even after being removed.

When the thistle flower dies, the tiny seeds are dispersed by the wind. The seeds are supposed to be favored by goldfinches, so I will be watching to see how our finches deal with them.

Watching this end of season seed dispersal, I was reminded that all of nature has a place in the scheme of things. These rough and thoroughly disagreeable thistles are a source of beauty when blooming and when dispersing seeds for the next season.

If I were smarter, I would figure out a way to use these rough beauties as a hedge to protect a garden plot from deer. I know they were used to protect castles in the distant past, why not a garden plot?

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