Plant Profile: Globe Thistle

Globe thistle blooms are about the size of a golf ball and spiky.

Globe thistle blooms are about the size of a golf ball and spiky.

I have to admit it—any plant with the word “thistle” in its name makes me nervous. Canada thistle was a persistent weed in my previous garden. Globe thistle (Echinops rito) is a different story. A native of Europe, it adapts well to our Midwestern soil and climate. It may self-seed but it is not aggressive, according to Cornell University horticulturists.

The plant shows up in many Minnesota gardens where it works well in extremely sunny, sometimes dry conditions—and it is hardy up to USDA Zone 3, making it a stunning choice for northern Minnesota gardens. The plant’s foliage is dark green and deeply lobed, attractive enough but nothing special. It does resemble a thistle. It’s the blooms, which start in July and continue well into the fall that are the main event here.

Bees are very attracted to globe thistle.

Bees are very attracted to globe thistle.

Each flower is a globe (hence the name!) that looks like it came from outer space. A dusty lavender color that hints of straight-up blue, it has prickly looking spikes around the ball, which open into tiny florets. The plants seem to be popular with bees, based on the action I noticed them getting during two recent garden tours. (There are so many great garden tours in Minnesota each summer — check out this listing for upcoming events.)

In the right spot, this is an easy care perennial. It likes a sunny to partly sunny spot and very well-drained soil. If the soil is soggy, it probably won’t do well. Plants can get between 2 and 4 feet tall with very few pests or disease problems. Varieties to consider are ‘Blue Glow’, ‘Sea Stone’ (a somewhat shorter variety) or ‘Veitch’s Blue’.

For a plant that will stop visitors in their tracks, give you a bit of blue in the garden and bring in lots of bees, globe thistle is a terrific choice.