(Carduus) Thistle family
Is land fulfilling the primal curse because it brings forth
thistles? So thinks the farmer, no doubt, but not the goldfinches
which daintily feed among the fluffy seeds, nor the bees, nor the
"painted lady," which may be seen in
all parts of the world where
thistles grow, hovering about the beautiful rose-purple flowers.
In the prickly cradle of leaves, the caterpillar of this thistle
butterfly weaves a web around its main food store.
When the Danes invaded Scotland, they stole a silent night march
upon the Scottish camp by marching barefoot; but a Dane
inadvertently stepped on a thistle, and his sudden, sharp cry,
arousing the sleeping Scots, saved them and their country: hence
the Scotch emblem.
>From July to November blooms the COMMON, BURR, SPEAR, PLUME,
BANK, HORSE, BULL, BLUE, BUTTON, BELL, or ROADSIDE THISTLE
(C. lanceolatus or Circium lanceolatum of Gray), a native of
Europe and Asia, now a most thoroughly naturalized American from
Newfoundland to Georgia, westward to Nebraska. Its violet
flower-heads, about an inch and a half across, and as high as
wide, are mostly solitary at the ends of formidable branches, up
which few crawling creatures venture. But in the deep tube of
each floret there is nectar secreted for the flying visitor who
can properly transfer pollen from flower to flower. Such a one
suffers no inconvenience from the prickles, but, on the contrary,
finds a larger feast saved for him because of them. Dense,
matted, wool-like hairs, that cover the bristling stems of most
thistles, make climbing mighty unpleasant for ants, which ever
delight in pilfering sweets. Perhaps one has the temerity to
"Fain would I climb, yet fear to fall."
"If thy heart fail thee, climb not at all,"
might be the ant's passionate outburst to the thistle, and the
thistle's reply, instead of a Sir Walter and Queen Elizabeth
couplet. Long, lance-shaped, deeply cleft, sharply pointed, and
prickly dark green leaves make the ascent almost unendurable;
nevertheless the ant bravely mounts to where the bristle-pointed,
overlapping scales of the deep green cup hold the luscious
flowers. Now his feet becoming entangled in the cottony fibers
wound about the scaly armor, and a bristling bodyguard thrusting
spears at him in his struggles to escape, death happily releases
him. All this tragedy to insure the thistle's cross-fertilized
seed that, seated on the autumn winds, shall be blown far and
wide in quest of happy conditions for the offspring!
Sometimes the PASTURE or FRAGRANT THISTLE (C. odoratus or C.
pumilum of Gray) still further protects its beautiful, odorous
purple or whitish flower-head, that often measures three inches
across, with a formidable array of prickly small leaves just
below it. In case a would-be pilferer breaks through these lines,
however, there is a slight glutinous strip on the outside of the
bracts that compose the cup wherein the nectar-filled florets are
packed; and here, in sight of Mecca, he meets his death, just as
a bird is caught on limed twigs. The pasture thistle, whose range
is only from Maine to Delaware, blooms from July to September.
Even gentle Professor Gray hurls anathema at the CANADA THISTLE;
"a vile pest" he calls it. As CURSED, CORN, HARD, and CREEPING
THISTLE it is variously known here and in Europe, whence it came
to overrun our land from Newfoundland to Virginia, westward to
Nebraska. By horizontal rootstocks it creeps and forms patches
almost impossible to eradicate. The small reddish-purple
flower-heads, barely an inch across, usually contain about a
hundred florets each. In their tubes the abundant nectar rises
high, so that numerous insects, even with the shortest tongues,
are able to enjoy it. Not only bees and butterflies, but wasps,
flies, and beetles feast diligently. When a floret opens, a
quantity of pollen emerges at the upper end of the anther
cylinder, pressed up by the growing style. Owing to their slight
stickiness and the sharp processes over their entire surface, the
pollen grains, which readily cling to the hairs of insects, are
transported to the two-branched, hairy stigma of an older floret.
But even should insects not visit the flower (and in fine weather
they swarm about it), it is marvelously adapted to fertilize
itself. Farmers may well despair of exterminating a plant so
perfectly equipped in every part; to win life's battles.
"The colour of purple...was, amongst the ancients, typical of
royalty. It was a kind of red richly shot with blue, and the dye
producing it was attained from a shell found in considerable
numbers off the coast of Tyre, and on the shore near the site of
that ancient city, great heaps of such shells are still to be
found. The production of the true royal purple dye was a very
costly affair, and therefore it was often imitated with a mixture
of cochineal and indigo..." - J. JAMES TISSOT.
As many so-called purple flowers are more strictly magenta, the
reader is referred to the next group if he has not found the
flower for which he is in search here. Also to the "White and
Greenish" section since many colored flowers show a tendency to
revert to the white type from which, doubtless, all were evolved.
He should remember that all flowers are more or less variable in
shade, according to varying conditions.
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