Long Live the Weeds!


 Nodding Thistle, also called Musk Thistle (Carduus nutans)


“What we call a weed is just a plant that hasn’t learned to grow in rows yet.
Or we haven’t got a purpose for it yet.”

~ Steve Kenyon


Nodding Thistle: A Thing of Beauty

A couple of weeks ago, I was driving down a busy Calgary roadway—windows rolled down, sun on my shoulder, my arm exuberantly slapping the side of the car in time to a snappy tune on the radio—when I came to a stoplight. As I waited for the light to change, my eye caught a flash of something bright pink. I turned to see that the attention-getting vibrant hot pink colour belonged to the large, heavy-headed blossoms of some tall prickly thistles growing in a dense thicket amidst a mass of Yellow Sweet Clover—all flourishing in an abandoned empty lot beside the railroad tracks. The striking tangle of vegetation bestowed a spectacular and flamboyant splash of colour on an otherwise drab looking landscape.

Luckily, I was able to pull out of traffic and park well off of the busy road to see what this pretty pink mass was all about. I fortuitously happened to have my camera sitting on the seat beside me—just a couple days earlier, I had spotted a luminous field of white daisies thriving just a little further up this very road and I was literally on my way back to take some shots of them.

Waylaid, I got lost in the tangled thicket of thistles (which I later identified as Nodding Thistle), deeply immersed in photographing their beautiful, eye-catching bright pink blossoms. They were so stunning, I was compelled to photograph them at every stage, from bud to full open blossom. Although the photo session was a bit challenging, as I unsuccessfully tried to avoid getting stabbed by their large and very sharp thorns in the stiff wind that suddenly arose, I was in heaven—it was such a gloriously beautiful summer’s day, and I was enjoying myself so much, that I honestly didn’t care whether I got a single decent photo.

Nodding Thistle is a biennial herb in the Asteraceae (sunflower) family. These plants can grow quite tall, ranging from  1 to 1.5 metres (3.3–4.9 ft) high, with large heavy blossoms ranging from 3 to 7 cm (1—3 inches) wide, which, true to their name, hang down and nod whimsically in a breeze. Nodding Thistle is native to regions of Europe and Asia and was introduced to North America. Here, it has historically been considered a noxious weed (Wikipedia).


“Beauty in things exists merely in the mind which contemplates them.”

~ David Hume



“Weeds are flowers too, once you get to know them.”

~ A. A. Milne



Redefining Weeds

If you really stop to think about it, there is no such thing as a weed—a weed is just a label we’ve given to a plant when it grows where we don’t want it to grow. But I believe that all plants, even introduced species, serve a valuable purpose and have a beneficial place and relationship to the land. Outside of the fact that many of these so-called weeds have beautiful blossoms, they are important in many other ways—they are frequently an indicator of poor soil conditions and are most often the only things that can survive in disturbed or nutrient-depleted soils. As more and more people are wanting to live and work in more environmentally friendly ways, new thinking and practices are beginning to emerge with regards to dealing with weeds.


Alberta cattleman and keynote speaker, Steve Kenyon (dubbed “The Weed Whisperer” in a fascinating online article by Meghan Mast), teaches that weeds are symptomatic of deeper underlying issues with the soil and says that we need to look at the reasons they grow where they grow to understand the deeper purpose they serve. Kenyon, who runs an environmentally sustainable ranch and tours around giving talks about sustainable cattle grazing practices, says that rather than trying to simply eradicate the symptom (weeds), we should view these plants as part of the land’s natural attempt at a solution—they are nature’s way of restoring soil balance and recycling the soil’s natural nutrients. (For more, see the full article: Steve Kenyon, The Weed Whisperer, by Meghan Mast).


“Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful,
we must carry it with us or we find it not.”

~ Ralph Waldo Emerson


“A weed is but an unloved flower.”

~ Ella Wheeler Wilcox


The bees certainly don’t consider this beautiful blossom a weed.


“What is a weed? A plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered.”

~ Ralph Waldo Emerson


“What would the world be, once bereft
Of wet and wildness? Let them be left,
O let them be left, wildness and wet;
Long live the weeds and the wilderness yet.”

~ Gerard Manley Hopkins

Beauty is in the Eye of the Beholder

The perception of beauty truly is subjective, isn’t it? Whereas many might view the Nodding Thistle as a noxious weed and see only ugliness or a threat, I could only see the incredible beauty adorning an otherwise abandoned and rather sad-looking empty lot.

It turned out to be a very good thing that I was able to have such a fun photo session with the Nodding Thistle. When I was finally able to tear myself away from their beauty, I got back in my car and headed to my original destination, the spectacular field of daisies just up the road, only to discover that the whole thing had been mowed down to the ground—Oxeye Daisies, too, are considered noxious weeds.



Image Credits:

All photographs by madlyinlovewithlife; © 2015 madlyinlovewithlife

24 thoughts on “Long Live the Weeds!

  1. Long live the weeds indeed! What a lovely tribute to these under-appreciated plants. They are so beautiful, all of them, and I can almost picture you having a grand time admiring and photographing their beauty. I love the quotes you shared along with the photos. Simply perfect! Thanks again, for sharing some of your adventures with us :)))

    • Hello Takami! Thank you so much for your lovely comment. I did have a grand time, indeed. A door opened for me before I even knew that one was closed! Life is good! Wishing you a very happy weekend! :))

  2. They are wonderful these thistles, I love your pictures Jeannie.
    The bee on the flower is sublime. Congratulations.
    I wish you a beautiful Sunday.

    • Thank you so much, Herve! I love bees so much and was so happy to get this shot, especially because it was so windy and the flowers were moving so much. Wishing you a very happy week ahead! :)))

  3. “Weeds are flowers too, once you get to know them.” Love it! :) Awesome photos – really displaying the beauty in all stages of flowering. Lovely post!

    • Hello Inger! Thanks for stopping by and thank you for your lovely comment. I’m glad I seized the moment and shot the photos of the thistle blossoms when I did, for when I next drove by them, they too had all been mowed down. Wishing you and Tor a wonderful week ahead! :))

  4. Pingback: Long Live the Weeds! « madlyinlovewithlife | WORLD ORGANIC NEWS

  5. A wonderful series of shots Jeannie. As a farmer I just wish they were living somewhere other than in our crops! :) Have a great week my friend.

    • I know what you mean, Sam. I wouldn’t want them growing in my garden either! But I sure appreciate their beauty. Wishing you a bountiful growing season! Enjoy the rest of your week! :))

  6. Great shots and great introduction to the beauty and importance of weeds…and you picked the queen of them all. The thistle is a scourge out in my hometown and farming country, so I have to be careful whenever I comment on their beauty :-) You do them great justice in this post, as your photos rock ~ Cheers!

    • Hello Randall! It’s true that the thistle is not a welcome plant for farmers. I don’t blame them for not wanting them to invade their land. My hope is that more environmentally friendly strategies can be used to deal with what we call “weeds” in the stewardship of our land. Thanks for stopping by! Wishing you a happy week ahead! :))

      • Agree, it is also nice to see people beginning to understand that ‘weeds’ actually have some very positive properties and are starting to be looked at in a different manner. However, farmers I think will continue to hate them :-) Cheers to happy days ahead!

        • I think you are right, Randall. And I certainly don’t blame any farmer for disliking weeds. My wish is that we can find some way other than herbicides to deal with invasive weeds. Enjoy the rest of your summer! :))

  7. The thistle is quite a beautiful flower, I love its shape. The last picture is my favourite, it almost looks like a very rare plant from an obscure country :-) I wouldn’t consider it as a weed :-)

  8. Aren’t “weeds” a conflict? Yes, I guess anything can be a weed in a way. And my backyard is nothing but weeds so is that my garden? LOL Once again, your view of everyday things blossomed (no pun intended) with your stellar photography!

    • You’re right Koji, one country’s flower is another country’s weed—I guess it all comes down to a matter of balance. A weed is whatever we define it to be, but I think that most people consider a weed to be a plant, usually invasive, growing where they don’t want it to be growing. Sounds like your garden has that natural, “wild” look to it! And thank you for your generous compliment, my friend! :))

  9. I really enjoyed this wonderful and appreciative attitude on weeds, Jeannie. I liked the photos of the thistle so much, what a gorgeous color and I love the spikiness. Also liked the quotes a lot. :D

    • Thank you, Jet! I’ve seen lots of other kinds of thistle before, but I don’t recall ever seeing this one and I was quite taken with it’s beauty. It was fun to stop and take some photos that morning. Wishing you and yours a happy summer weekend! :))

  10. I have been wifi free so I have been absent from your blog! I missed your clever and beautiful posts. This thistle is beautiful and you captured it well. Some call them weeds but I do not. The bees and the goldfinches love the thistle!
    I am back online so I shall be looking forward to your posts!

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