Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Milk Thistles on My Walking Path

I sometimes walk on my lunch break at work. I work in kind of a commerce park kind of area that’s about 1 ½ mile away from a mall. It’s actually easy to grab the MP3 player and walk about 2-3 miles in about 30 minutes. Along the path I take, I cross over the Lynnhaven Watershed and there is a lot of great vegetation to look at while walking.

One of the plants that caught my eye was the milk thistle. I a few photos with the camera on my cell phone on May 27 but they were really poor pictures. It was super bright out that day and a little windy. Now, the thistle don't look as nice anymore. In fact, they are starting to look like dandelions that have started to go to seed.

But these are such amazingly sturdy and attractive little plants. The ones along the watershed are kind of short and squatty but pretty wide. They are actually a part of the daisy family, which is something I wouldn’t have guessed, just based on the appearance of the blooms themselves. I can kind of see that now, in looking at the stems and leaves though. “Members of this genus grow as annual or biennial plants. The erect stem is tall, branched and furrowed but not spiny. The large, alternate leaves are waxy-lobed, toothed and thorny, as in other genera of thistle. The lower leaves are cauline (attached to the stem without petiole). The upper leaves have a clasping base. They have large, disc-shaped pink-to-purple, rarely white, solitary flower heads at the end of the stem. The flowers consist of tubular florets. The phyllaries under the flowers occur in many rows, with the outer row with spine-tipped lobes and apical spines. The fruit is a black achene with a white pappus.”

I need to find out how to grow these. Aside from being interesting to look at, they serve another purpose: they are edible (as well as being extremely good for your liver). “Around the 16th Century this plant became quite popular and almost all parts of it were eaten (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Milk_thistle). The roots can be eaten raw or boiled and buttered or par-boiled and roasted. The young shoots in spring can be cut down to the root and boiled and buttered. The spiny bracts on the flower head were eaten in the past like globe artichoke, and the stems (after peeling) can be soaked overnight to remove bitterness and then stewed. The leaves can be trimmed of prickles and boiled and make a good spinach substitute, they can also be added raw to salads.” Now you know, I’m actually wondering if I could take some cuttings or something from these plants to try and grow!

Milk thistles can grow in either sunny or lightly shaded areas of the garden and the soil type is not to important.” And according to Dave’s Garden, it could be easy enough to do.

Propagation Methods:
From seed; direct sow outdoors in fall
From seed; winter sow in vented containers, coldframe or unheated greenhouse
From seed; sow indoors before last frost
From seed; direct sow after last frost

Seed Collecting:
Allow seed heads to dry on plants; remove and collect seeds
Wear gloves to protect hands when handling seeds
Properly cleaned, seed can be successfully stored

I know it’s not right to collect wildflowers for personal use so I should look into ordering some online. Although, according to U.S. Fish &Wildlife Service Region 5, they don’t list milk thistle as being an endangered plant in Virginia. That should make it easier to order then.

Despite being listed as a weed on several sites I visited, I can’t see milk thistle as an invasive weed. Although when I get some, I will plant them in containers. Hell, I’ve got wild ivy that is probably more invasive to my house as it grows, and yet I’m trying to maintain it so it grows through the hand rail of our front step.

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