You’ve no doubt heard the gardener’s definition of a weed as being a plant out of place.
If that’s the case, then what we need to find out is where the proper place would be for a thistle plant to feel right at home!
Thistles are invasive opportunists, squatters, tenants who don’t pay rent, unwelcome visitors to the site.
And if you happen to step on a newly emerging thistle plant, you’ll find their prickly nature very unpleasant and very unwelcome under the tender touch and feel of your bare feet.
If a pasture is excessively grazed and eaten down by livestock, it can become a likely site for thistles to invade.
Also, land that is disturbed for building construction, pipeline installation, or other commercial purposes can be invaded by thistles and other random unwanted vegetation if the disturbed soil is not immediately re-seeded with desirable and purposeful plants.
So, what good are they and where do they belong?!
As to the “what good are they?” part, the wild birds find the seeds of the thistle to be a useful source of food.
Another “good” for thistles is that they tend to try to fix what we mess up. By that I mean that it is better to have invasive thistles germinate and grow in an area of poor, over-grazed, or disturbed soils than to have those soils erode away because of no vegetation to help hold the soils in place.
And on the esoteric or artistic side of things, the colorful and distinctive blossoms of the thistle plants are a brilliant visual delight to the nature photographer or to those who like to seek out and identify wildflowers.
The dried feathery thistle “down” is a visual treat, too, as the seeds take flight on the breezes in search of suitable squatting grounds to begin their lives anew.
Also on the positive side of the thistle ledger, some medicinal and healing qualities are attributed to this plant, though I cannot verify its pharmacological effectiveness.
And, where do they belong? Right here in Nature’s great and mysterious plan of diversity of life forms on this planet.
Thistles represent another chance for observation—and for questioning just how it all works together.
I’m not sure we’ll ever completely know the answers!