Nature Table: Thistle

There are six species of thistle that grow wild in Ireland but the one most people associate with the word is the spear thistle.

This is also the thistle that James II chose for the Scottish emblem, along with a Latin motto that roughly translates as ‘nobody touches me and gets away with it’.

It’s a biennial plant and spends its first year as a rosette of very prickly leaves spread out on the ground. In its second year it sends up a tall stalk, often well over a metre in height, crowned by the characteristic purple flowers.

Spear thistles are in bloom at present. The flowers will later turn into what botanists call a pappus but what most people call thistledown. The thistledown distributes the tiny seeds on the breeze. Other thistle species include the carline thistle, a characteristic plant of the burren and some other locations. It’s small with spectacular yellow and brown flowers. The creeping thistle is officially a noxious weed and the marsh thistle is a wetland plant.


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