I’ve written previously about my love of what many people believe to be a common garden weed: the thistle. I find the flowers attractive and the bees are fond of them too, so that’s reason enough for me to let them grow and direct a very patient MrElaineous to mow around them. This year the more familiar purple spear thistle has been joined by what I believe to be a sow-thistle. This is a plant that looks a bit like the love child of a traditional thistle and a dandelion: lots of yellow flowers, rather prickly, turns fluffy when it goes to seed.
I admit that the reason they’re still standing in the garden is more out of laziness than a desire to see them bloom, but it’s turned out to be a worthwhile lack of action. The seeds of the sow-thistle are very similar to nyger seeds (or niger, as in from Nigeria … although the plant originated in Ethiopia … the things you can learn from Google!). This is a small black seed popular with finches, and, sure enough, goldfinches and house sparrows have tucked into the sow-thistles over the past week. They have turned the plants into their own personal playgrounds, hanging like acrobats from the stalks to reach the flower heads and giving themselves beards of fluff as they separate the nutritious, oil-rich seed from the thistledown. Our garden will never win any awards—the lawn is not manicured, the hedges are rampant, and at this time of year the wildflowers have completely taken over—but for sheer enjoyment, both by us and the local wildlife, I think it’s hard to beat.
Adult on top, fledgling on bottom; if you look closely, you can see the yellow gape around the beak of the fledgling.