The Globe Thistles

The Globe Thistles
The Globe Thistles

Worldwide, there are 120 species or so a hundred species or so of globe thistles. Only a few of those are in cultivation. The genus name comes from Greek and means hedgehog.

Members of the daisy family, the globe thistles are found in Eurasia. Native to hot, dry areas of the globe, these are related to the thistles, which explains the common name.

Depending on the species, these can be annual, biennial, or perennial. However, the ones featured below are mostly perennials. The plants are an ideal choice for pollinator gardens.

The plant size and the prevalence of spines can vary from one type to another. The grooved, erect stems are often hairy.

The thistle-like prickly leaves have three pairs of opposite lobes. The alternate foliage is often covered with white hairs beneath. This can be toothed.

The prickly flower heads of the globe thistles are very distinctive. These are beautiful enough to persuade many gardeners that they’re worth growing.

The common name also refers to the ball or globe-like flower heads, which can be up to 3 inches wide. Each head contains hundreds of individual star-like blossoms that are densely crowded together. The flower heads can be prickly due to the bracts surrounding the flowers.

The bracts can be concealed by the flowers. These terminal blooms invariably attract pollinators. The flowers are usually blue, white, silver to gray, or purple. Flowering is typically from July through September.

Of the six or so species of globe thistles in cultivation, the most outstanding one is the Star Frost globe thistle. This is highly recommended for the home landscape.


Star Frost globe thistle (Echinops bannaticus Star Frost)

Also called globe thistle Star Frost, Star Frost globe thistle has a better branching pattern, and isn’t as tall as the species.

It is also very free flowering as well. This globe thistle is an upright, robust, herbaceous, bushy, clump forming plant.

Available from Digging Dog Nursery and High Country Gardens, it reaches 3 to 4 feet in height with a 2 to 3 foot spread. The plant is hardy in zones 2 through 9.

Although the dark green, thistle-like leaves look very prickly, they actually aren’t spiny, while those of most other globe thistles are. These are quite long—up to 10 inches. The foliage is gray beneath and green above.

The blooms open in the typical ball or sphere-shaped flower heads, which can be up to 3 inches across. The flower heads are about the size of a golf ball.

This blooms the first year when grown from seeds. The terminal, whitish-silver blossoms appear on erect, sturdy, woolly white stems. These flowers contrast greatly with those of the other globe thistles for most species generally have blue to purple blossoms. This cultivar can bloom from mid-Summer through early Fall.













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This content was written by Connie Krochmal. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact Connie Krochmal for details.