Thistle Shift Change


A thick stand of sow thistle in the northern part of the park

The pink Italian thistle is about done with its nefarious work in the park, and the yellow spiny sow thistle (sonchus asper) is taking over.  In full sun, the sow thistle briefly opens its flower wider than the Italian thistle ever did, and is to that extent more decorative.  We have to be grateful for small sparks of beauty in the park, where almost every leafy plant is a weed.  Apart from that merit, the sow thistle is as obnoxious as its Italian cousin.  It grows in thick stands in part of the “Nature Area” on the north side of the park, and in wayside clusters almost everywhere.  As I’ve pointed out here earlier, this thistle was thought to have nutritional value for lactating sows, hence the name, and young tender leaves can serve humans as lettuce.  You won’t find too many young tender leaves on these guys.  They’re head high and the stems are mostly a mature purple, and spiny all over.  

P.S.  Having written the above, I was pursued by a nagging feeling that the web photos of sonchus asper that I consulted for identification of this plant weren’t quite on point. The purple stems!  Only one of the many photos of sonchus that I saw had purple stems.  All the rest were green. Just a moment ago I happened on — oh embarrassment! — a post I had written on this blog two years ago, identifying a plant very, very similar to the one shown to the left as Helminthotheca echioides, commonly known as Bristly Oxtongue.  And that blog post shows a flower that could be the twin of the one on the left, except for the green bug on it, and it plainly shows purple stems.  Take away your sows, this weed is not for them, and bring your oxen instead.  

So, dear reader, that’s what happens when a complete amateur who never took a class in botany tries to identify the bounty of invasive ruderals that bless this former garbage-dump-turned-park. If you are a botanist who would like to do an inventory of everything that grows here, please contact me; I can be your assistant.  

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