ORRIN MORRIS: Canada thistle is showy, but watch out for those thorns

CANADA THISTLE Cirsium arvense

CANADA THISTLE Cirsium arvense

Most of the time there are wildflowers all around us, with the possible exception of December through February.

Some are tiny and hidden from view to the average person. Others are showy, elevated on large plants. Some are delicate and lustrous while others are coarse and thorny.

The diversity of wildlife reminds me of the many ups and downs we face in everyday life. During my primary career in research, there were weeks when a project went smoothly and then other times when we struggled with problems that if unresolved meant having to start over. There were days filled with accolades and others with scorn.

Are such swings between good days and bad days unusual? No. All aspects of life are like that, but the one feature in this life that does not change is God’s abiding love. Thus the Psalmist urges us to “Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; for His lovingkindness is everlasting” (Psalm 118:29).


Cirsium arvense

The Canada thistle is the epitome of the good and the bad, the showy and the offensive. This is the most common and widespread thistle in the U.S. However, it is not that common in the Southeast.

The name is an obvious clue that this variety of thistle thrives in a cooler climate. The patches that I have observed in this area were along fence rows, even though the field was overgrown with weeds. Thus, I surmise the seeds were brought in by birds migrating from the North.

Canada thistle is easily spotted because it differs in four ways from the other thistles of this area.

First, its blooms are smaller and the color is a lighter lavender-pink than that which is proudly displayed by bull thistles, field thistles or nodding thistles.

Second, the “cup” that holds the bloom of the Canada thistle is proportionately taller and more compact that that of the other area thistles.

Third, the Canada thistle plant is the tallest of our thistles, rising as much as 6 feet. The one exception is the swamp thistle that may be present in an area wetland, although I’ve not seen one. It has been known to reach 10 feet.

The fourth distinguishing characteristic is the extensive branching of the Canada thistle. The field thistle, like most thistles, may have two or three branches, but the Canada thistle has branches on branches.

Finally, the leaves of the Canada thistle are very thorny, as will be noted for the field Thistle next week. However, the thorns of the Canada thistle are shorter and stiffer and about four times more numerous for a leaf of the same length.

Canada thistle’s blooming season is about to end. Happy hunting, but do watch out for the thorns.

In Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount (Mat. 7:16 KJV) he used thistles to guard believers from false prophets, “Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?”

Tomorrow, Oct. 5, I will have a booth at the Master Gardeners festival on Parker Road in Conyers. I am having a clearance sale as I prepare to downsize my inventory, and I will be selling $40 originals for $5; $5 card-sets for $1, and $1 individual note cards for 10 cents. However, the wildflower books are not included in the sale.

Orrin Morris is a retired Baptist minister, local artist and art teacher. This column is included in a two-volume set of books of wildflower columns he has published. To purchase the books, visit the Nature Seen Gallery & Frame Shop, 914 Center Street in Olde Town Conyers. Email him at odmsketchingpad@yahoo.com.