Echinops ritro

My Tough Plants #5: Globe Thistle

Tough plants often have common names that suggest they are weeds. Globe Thistle is no exception. Real thistles are prickly, deep-rooted weeds (although some are quite attractive). Globe Thistle (Echinops ritro) shares some of their qualities, but escapes true weediness.

This is a plant I can recommend without reservation to anyone with a dry garden. In moist soil it would grow weak and floppy and need staking. It prefers full sun but blooms well enough in my garden with only four hours of direct sun. Deer don’t eat it. Sometimes aphids appear on the developing flower buds, but can be washed off easily by spraying with water. The flowers look good for several weeks and may be dried if cut at their peak. To prevent uncontrolled self-seeding, it’s best to deadhead carefully before the flower heads shatter.

More information about Echinops ritro can be found here.

The flowers are indeed globe-shaped, about the size of golf balls, and a metallic blue in colour. I’ve seen them described as similar in appearance to the medieval mace, but in 2020, a different comparison is inevitable. A fellow blogger alerted me to it in the comments to this recent post.

Echinops ritro closeup
THE flower of 2020?

Globe thistle mingles well with other plants in the garden, especially with grey-leaved, drought-tolerant ones such as Curry Plant (Helichrysum italicum). In the dry, warm days of late summer, the foliage starts to morph into shades of yellow and rusty brown, which is somehow appropriate.

Echinops ritro and Helichrysum italicum
Globe Thistle and Curry Plant

Here are a couple of other plants that look good right now

Japanese Painted Fern (Athyrium niponicum) in Chinese egg jar
This Japanese Painted Fern (Athyrium niponicum) has done very well this year. Unlike the globe thistle, it prefers moist soil and is happy in the Chinese “egg jar.”
Garlic chives (Allium tuberosum) in bloom
The starry, pure white flowers of Garlic Chives (Allium tuberosum) freshen up the scene in the late summer garden.

The photos in this post were taken on August 21st and 29th, 2020.

28 comments

  1. I often learn about the plants in my garden on your blog. I didn’t know it was called a globe thistle though that is an obvious name. Ours thrives in the south facing front garden and is very popular with bees and photographers.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. You’re right, Becky–I sometimes wonder about my first garden, in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. When you’ve invested a lot of yourself into a place, you hope it hasn’t declined. There’s a garden near me that has changed hands several times over the past 30 years. Right now it’s in a state of neglect that’s hard to see. And it’s not even my garden!

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Thrust thy thorny thumbs, thy thistles.
    Thrust ‘n throw them thither,
    Through thickets thick ‘n thin.
    Thieve, though thunder throws,
    Things that thirst ‘n thrash.
    Thank thy theme, that thou,
    Thinks thrives, thrift ‘n thrill.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I struggle with thistles and never considered just incorporating them as flowers. Careful deadheading would be key because everything grows like weeds around here. 😀 Thanks for the thoughtful advice. Enjoy your garden, Audrey, as we transition to autumn.

    Liked by 1 person

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