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Thistle Be A Way To Nurture Native

In last week’s blog, we discussed the importance of using the right plant in the right place. Today, I’d like to focus on that very thought for one simple reason: I was out hiking with a friend in an area filled with blooming thistles. My friend, who is not particularly attuned to plants, took one look at the area and immediately reacted with, “Wow, look at all of those weeds!” 

While my own reaction was very different (I was actually admiring the juxtaposition of the soft purple flowers against their very architectural stalks), I recognized how my friend’s all-too-common reaction to our native thistles means people rarely include this stunning plant in their gardens.  This is truly unfortunate as our native thistles play an incredibly important role in healthy ecosystems. Indeed, The Xerces Society has published a fantastic guide that stresses the importance of native thistles for our native wildlife. Specifically, thistles are an important nectar and pollen source for insects and hummingbirds.  Their leaves and flowerheads are a caterpillar food source for a range of butterflies and moths, including two found in our area, the Painted Lady and Little Metalmark. Thistles also provide highly nutritious seeds for small songbirds during the breeding season. Additionally, several species of birds use thistle down to line their nests.

Florida has seven species of native thistle: Tall thistle (Cirsium altissiumum); Purple thistle (Cirsium horridulum); Horrid thistle (Cirsium horridulum var. horridulum); Le Conte’s thistle (Cirsium lecontei); Swamp thistle (Cirsium muticum); Nuttall’s thistle (Cirsium nuttallii); and Virginia thistle (Cirsium virginianum). Two of these, Purple thistle and Nuttall’s thistle are native to our area and we happen to have Purple thistle in stock.

Why not stop by and see this beautiful plant in bloom? And, perhaps once you’ll see it, you’ll be able to imagine a place for it in your garden. Remember, together we can #NurtureNative.