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.”
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
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
“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.
All photographs by madlyinlovewithlife; © 2015 madlyinlovewithlife