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Thistle Lovers All: The Cobwebby Thistle as Habitat

Articles: Thistle Lovers All: The Cobwebby Thistle as Habitat

Early spring foliage of cobwebby thistle (Cirsium occidentale). Photographs by Phil Van Soelen

[sidebar]You may be familiar with the nonnative thistles as terrible pests; they are signs of poor land management. Yet, our own native thistles never behave this way; they keep to undisturbed places from coastal bluffs up to timberline, mostly favoring sandy or rocky soils, often where there is little competition with other plants. Flower structure favors nature’s most colorful pollinators: butterflies and hummingbirds.

Glenn Keator, Complete Garden Guide to the Native Perennials of California, 1990[/sidebar]

The beautiful cobwebby thistle (Cirsium occidentale) is nearing the end of its life cycle in my Novato garden. With the approaching heat of summer, the spiny involucre is splayed open, offering up an abundance of soft, downy chaff. It’s almost June, and I watch as the goldfinches gather in my sunny borders, flying off with beaks full of thistle chaff, a perfect soft and silky lining for their tiny open-cup nests.

The American goldfinch (Carduelis tristis), the “sad thistle eater,” apparently in refer...

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