globe thistle

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.