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.