Onopordum acanthium

Eric La Fountaine, here, posting while Daniel is away.

I have been photographing this plant all spring. I find the cottony leaves to be quite beautiful, especially on bright sunny days. It is a plant that is both despised and admired. Onopordum acanthium is native to Europe and Asia, but has naturalized in many areas around the world and is considered a nuisance invasive species in many areas, especially dry climate regions. The species has spread rapidly in range lands of the Americas and Australia. It crowds out forage species and forms strong spiny stands that become impenetrable to livestock and humans.

Onopordum acanthium, commonly cotton thistle is also grown as an ornamental. The biennial plants grow large and provide a structural element to the garden. Historically it has been used medicinally and the flower receptacle is eaten like an artichoke. The species is sometimes called Scottish thistle. The thistle is a national symbol of Scotland. A legend is told that the Scots army was alerted to a military invasion by the screams of one of the invaders who stepped on the spiny plant in the night. This species was probably not present in Scotland when the thistle was adopted as a national symbol, but several taxa known as thistles are considered to fit the national symbol designation.

Onopordum acanthium
Onopordum acanthium
Onopordum acanthium

18 responses to “Onopordum acanthium”

  1. Michael Williamson

    Thanks Eric–now this is not a plant to argue with! The ladybug is a delight.

  2. John Manion

    Look up the meaning of Onopordum…it’s one of the more entertaining botanical epithets. Hint: it refers to the result of donkeys eating the plant!

  3. Tyler

    Nice photos! It looks like it would have great ornamental value too!
    Come on John Manion – no teasing, give us the URL!

  4. Eric La Fountaine

    That is funny, John. I did not come across that in my research for the article. Onopordum.

  5. annie Morgan

    Soft and cottony-looking – the very devil if it’s in your garden unannounced! Love the ladybug photo – beautiful.

  6. Anne

    I am glad to see there are still red ladybugs out there! In my childhood they all were but now we are overrun by those orange Asian imports.

  7. john manion

    OK…you asked for it.
    It means “donkey fart!”

  8. Marilyn Brown

    Eric, may we have a picture of the thistle when blooming time comes around ?

  9. Noel Burdette

    …growing up in Victoria (Australia) I used to always admire these plants from afar as we tramped through the paddocks during spring and summer. We always knew they were lethal to the skin…but they still looked fabulous as they shimered in the sunlight with their silver coats. It was always an extra special treat in late summer when the flowers had finished to see multitudes of goldfinches pick at the seed heads which were cut and dried for floral work. I still carry a soft spot for this prickly plant! Thanks for posting it .

  10. phillip

    wow..without looking at the comments…just the pictures…i thought ..thistle..?…artichoke…?…kale….?
    great pic’s…!…thanks…!

  11. Michael F

    The thistle of the legend is most likely Spear Thistle Cirsium vulgare, see:

  12. CherriesWalks

    Not a good place to sit for a picnic!

  13. jan phillips

    How lovely to see a thistle being admired.

  14. elizabeth a airhart

    lady bug do not fly away
    they eat the the bugs that harm the plants
    thank you for the fine pictures

  15. Laura Henderson

    Hi Uncle Eric,
    Great pics! When I opened the first one, I thought it was a winter picture for a second!! I love the ladybug, and I’m glad I don’t have this thistle in my yard!

  16. Bonnie

    Interesting. We have enough invasive plants in TX including trees. I still like my Pistache tree and the Mimosa tree.

  17. Linda Chafin

    No, no, no! Puh-leeze don’t add this invasive plant to anybody’s list of ornamentals!

  18. JustDandelions

    Oh, I am SO blessed with a full crop of these beautiful demons,,,,, I have a meadow instead of front lawn, much to the neighbors’ chagrin. And the township weed police.
    However, the time has come to do judicious mowing , ’cause I’ve had run-ins with these things before. No fun at all. Almost as bad as a run-in with the weed police.

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