Friday, January 31, 2014

Flower Friday: Native thistle is far from "horridulum"

Swallowtail on Cirsium horridulum
Photo/Walter K. Taylor
Thistles have a bad reputation for their spiny personality, but these formidable wildflowers shine as favorite nectar and host plants for many butterflies.

Right now, you may not notice the broad basal rosette of sharply toothed green and purple leaves growing low to the ground. Soon, the large flowers of the purple thistle will make for a beautiful display of pinkish-violet hues. The unopened flower buds resemble tiny artichokes, while the mature blooms appear as compact purple brush heads contained within a fortress of wickedly spiny leaves. No wonder this species' name is horridulum

There are seven species of thistle in Florida, and although this one prefers dry sites, several are found in wet, boggy areas.

Purple Thistle (Cirsium horridulum) 

Family: Aster (Asteraceae)
Hardiness: North, Central and South Florida
Growth Habit: Basal leaves 12-18 inches wide that form a round rosette. Flowers grow on 1- to 3-foot flower spikes in springtime. All parts of the plant, including seeds, have sharp spines.
Soil: Thistles are very drought tolerant.
Exposure: Full sun or light shade
Garden tips: Preserve natural stands of thistles that occur in areas not regularly mowed. They coexist well with lovegrass, and their flowers are long-lived. After flowering, the plants retain interest by forming cottony white seed heads that shatter to the wind. Purple thistle is the host plant for the little metalmark caterpillar and is visited by many butterflies, including swallowtails.

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