Posted by: Memorizing Nature | August 7, 2010

The Thistle Blockade

“How far are we walking?” he asked.

“To the thistle.”

The thistle, sprouting up near a culvert, began as all thistles do. But quickly it had reached an improbable size, even before it bloomed. Its leaves grew unafraid. Its bristles could deter a porcupine’s quills. Its thorns pierced arrows. Its stalk heightened and propagated. No longer could this botanical marvel be defined as a plant. It was practically a tree. A specimen to behold, a destination.

The next day, he asked, “Where are we heading?”

“The thistle.”


 “There’s nowhere else to go around here.”  

The thistle had become barrier of thorns, separating the cars from the forest. Sharper than slammed glass, it had evolved into a frightening fence forming a two-dimensional cage. The humans were on one side, creeping about in their urbane dust, while the animals persisted in a struggling paradise. The risk of impalement was great, such that no beast – whether human or other – attempted to cross. Never had a natural phenomenon made such a statement.   


"The thistle had become barrier of thorns, separating the cars from the forest." (Photo by E. Medline)

“Can’t we walk somewhere else this afternoon? What’s so great about that freakish plant, anyway?”

I wondered if it would bloom soon. The mauve flower tuft on top, I predicted, would be tantalizing for bees, which were already buzzing nearby, waiting for the nectar payout. The softness of those punkish petals was in complete contrast to the sting of the bracts and leaves. Tempted, I placed a finger on a spike, and amply bled.  The oddity was antagonized – I had crossed a boundary, and was given a warning.  

 “Let’s go see the thistle.”

 “Now you’re into the thistle? I thought you were bored with it.”

 “It’s amazing, I admit it. Just don’t touch it.”  

 “Good,” I said. Today would be the day it would finally begin to bloom.

 “Should we bring the camera?” he asked.

 “No,” I answered. “It might not like that.” I showed him my wound, which hadn’t  completely clotted, and he nodded knowingly.   


"The mauve flower tuft on top, I predicted, would be tantalizing for bees." (Photo by E. Medline)

We paraded down the road in expectation of once again viewing this alarming beauty.  But upon arriving at the place where the thistle had relentlessly spread, we realized there was no evidence of it. It had truly disappeared. Not just the thistle, but everything in the ditch was gone, more or less. The municipal lawn mower had gnawed the growth along  the roadside, and spared only an inch of dried stalks.

I was upset about the stately bulrushes; I was torn about the sweet-and-sour smelling raspberries; but the loss of the thistle was almost too much to bear.  

He picked up something that was lying beside his sandal. It was a flower, drying up, purple turned to brown. “We arrived too late,” he said. Still, he presented the flower to me as a consolation. What a sad corsage. On the walk home, I contemplated placing it in the middle of an aged encyclopedia for preservation, but a yellow finch flew by, its beak stealing the memento from my fingers.  The bird trilled in my ear, expressing profanities.


Readers, my previous post “Tenacious Tents” was included in the carnival, The Moth and Me #13 and “Beauty in the Ditch” can be found in Berry Go Round 30. Click on the links to other bloggers for some fascinating topics and thoughts.

And if you enjoy photos of flowers, be sure to check out Today’s Flowers.



  1. I know the thistle is the shining star of this but the other human takes the prize for “Best Supporting Actor.” Love it… will read it over and over again.

  2. So very sad. And very well written. What’s up next week? I’m always looking forward to it.

    • I’m thinking chickadees but also trying – without success – to get a nice photo of a grasshopper. Every time I have one in focus, it takes off.

  3. Wonderful! I LOVE thistles…in the wild and NOT in my garden. 🙂

  4. Wonderful post and a lovely photo of the thistle. It is a favorite of the finches.

  5. Love your story and your pictures!!
    Thistles are wonderful including the leaves and flowers.

  6. Wonderful story!! I won’t think of a thistle in the same way again. The flower is actually beautiful when you look at it with different eyes rather than just seeing a weed.

  7. So now I know what the name of that flower hehehe. We went for a walk on a trail last weekend and I was mesmerized with it so I took some photos with the pretty butterfly with it. Will share it next week.. Your photo looks great!

  8. Beautiful photo, but I am enthralled by your story!

  9. beautifully written.

  10. This is a very well written post, the poignancy of the loss of the thistle plant just when it was blooming is communicated so well.

    Of course, there are thistles and then there are thistles. Yours sounds like a bull thistle. The native thistles like yours are quite welcome here in the Ozarks, but there is a sort of thistle that is considered an invasive exotic, very much a problem here and if you let it grow in your fields the conservation Department will come and eradicate it for you, and charge you for the privilege.

    Too bad your municipality doesn’t understand the importance of ditch flowers for the wildlife. Glad the finch got the thistle seeds, despite its profanity. They really do go on, sometimes, don’t they?

    • Our municipality is much more environmentally friendly than most, so perhaps I was being a bit unfair by singling out this one sin. In any case, it did feel like a loss. And yes, quite the beak on that finch.

  11. What a great find is your blog. That thistle reminds me of Beauty and the Beast.

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