The Good Guys: Native Thistles

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Last month I wrote about Scotch Thistles, a noxious weed in Colorado and in many other states. Then there are Bull Thistles, Musk Thistles, Plumeless Thistles, and Canada Thistles, also on the Colorado noxious weed list. This begs the question, are all thistles invasive, nasty plants, or are there some good guys among them?

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Big, Bad Thistles

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When I spy a thistle in my yard—or in the open space next door—my first inclination is to annihilate it. Pull out the weed killer. Put on gloves and yank. Dig out the roots. Sure, some have imposing purple flowers, but I’ve learned that if you delay your war, the thistles will conquer. Then I started reading up on thistles.

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Tumbling Seed Spreaders

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An iconic symbol of the West, tumbleweeds conjure images of cowboys, cattle drives, and barbed wire. They even have their own song—“Tumbling Tumbleweeds” was written by Bob Nolan in the 1930s, and seems to reappear as often as the weeds for which it’s named.

Yes, we’re all familiar with tumbleweeds. But, as a result of my Colorado Master Gardener training, I have insider information that will stun, shock, and astonish you. Tumbleweeds are aliens!

Yes, it’s true. Before the Europeans stumbled across the western hemisphere, there were no tumbleweeds on the plains. Of course, there were no cowboys, either—no horses, no cattle, and no chuckwagon bean dinners. Tumbleweeds arrived, not in flying saucers, but in seed shipments from Europe and Asia.

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