During today’s walk around Cosmeston I spotted a plant I’ve not seen before – or, at least, I’ve not consciously noticed before. It’s so easy to just walk over the things growing under your feet – although, in this case, if you were walking barefoot you couldn’t help but notice it!
It’s the Dwarf thistle (Cirsium acaule), and it’s easily identifiable as its single flower almost completely lacks a stem – the gorgeous purple flower sits right on top of a rosette of wavy and spiny edged leaves.
This thistle prefers to grow in low grasslands, particularly on calcareous soils, so it does tend to be quite localised but can be found in England as far north as Yorkshire and in south Wales.
They glisten silver and gold in the late autumn sunshine these Carline thistles, with their thick fringe of papery bracts and heads of soft golden down. I blogged about the flowers last year; now here are the ‘everlasting’ seed heads that can be seen all through the chilly months of winter.
Fasciated: Adjective; (Botany) Showing abnormal fusion of parts or organs, resulting in a flattened ribbon-like structure (Oxford Dictionary).
The thistle in my photo is an example; instead of developing in the circular shape that is usual for this plant, the flower has, for some unknown reason, become distorted into a flattened and elongated, almost oblong shape.
My new favourite flower resembles something you might find in a dried arrangement rather than a flower in full bloom but such is the look of the Carline thistle (Carlina vulgaris).
It grows best on calcareous soils in Wales and England – they are thriving on the dry, stony grassland areas at Cosmeston Lakes Country Park. It’s spiny, as you would expect from a thistle, but is not a tall plant, probably no more than knee-height, and it sends up its spiky flower heads on solitary stems that have between 2 and 5 flowers on top.
At first glance, you might think the flowers were dead but, if you look closer, you can see that they’re just like any other daisy-like flower, except for their brownish hues. When the sun touches them, they positively glow, and when the weather is cold and wet, they close up. The flowers can be seen from July through to September, after which they will dry out and often last right through the winter. I’m thinking that once they finish flowering, I might have to snaffle a couple to enjoy at home over the winter.
Last Floral Friday I was confused about geraniums; this week it’s thistles and things that look like thistles that are causing my befuddlement.
It seems there are thistle lookalikes, like Lesser burdock (Arctium minus agg.) and Common Knapweed (Centaurea nigra), though admittedly, they don’t have thorns but the flowers are very similar. And then there are plants that have ‘thistle’ in their names that don’t look a bit like thistles to me: Smooth sow thistle (Sonchus oleraceus), for example, that looks more like a dandelion, and Globe thistle (Echinops sp.), which looks like a cross between a thistle, a teasel and an allium. And then there are the numerous varieties of actual thistles to decipher. Which genus is it: Cirsium, Carduus (Latin for ‘a kind of thistle’), Silybum (yes, really!) or Onopordum? And is it Spear thistle (Cirsium vulgare) or Creeping thistle (Cirsium arvense) or Milk thistle (Silybum marianum) or Scotch thistle (Onopordum acanthum)?
I think you can see why I’m not even going to try to identify these photos. I’m going to remain bewildered and simply enjoy their wonderful structures and gorgeous colours.