My thistle is blooming this week so I thought it was a good time to dust off an old article about this great beneficial plant.
Dateline: April 19, 2013*
In my garden, I always savor the often unheralded plants. Plants that many remove from their own landscapes because they are unattractive “weeds”. If you remove Thistle (Cirsium spp.), you are missing out on experiences better than any action movie.
Meet Nuttall’s Thistle (Cirsium nuttallii) a resident of my landscape. This guy took forever to bloom, starting out with dirt hugging basal leaves about 12 inches in diameter. Slowly it began reaching for the skies, eventually becoming eye to eye with me. Five foot tall (or short depending on who’s doing the measuring).
I patiently waited as this larval host for Painted Lady Butterflies (Vanessa cardui) and the little Metalmark butterfly (Calephelis virginiensis) slowly grew to produce one of the most abundant food provider of any Florida Native Plant I have encountered in my garden. I’m still searching daily for caterpillars, but they are elusive at this point, that or with the way this plant can stick you, I’m reluctant to get stabbed in the search.
What I did find is somewhat awe-inspiring. I’ll let the photos speak for themselves.
big lady bugs
spotless lady bugs
Jagged Ambush Bugs (Phymata fasciata)
Wasps of various shapes and sizes
Ichneumon Wasp (Therion morio) use moth larvae as its host.
Some type of Diptera, likely a flesh fly whose Larvae parasitize bees, cicadas, termites, grasshoppers/locusts, millipedes, earthworms, and snails. Adults have a sweet tooth choosing nectar, sap, fruit juices and as this guy likely is, honeydew produced by the aphids.
Chalcidid Wasp (possibly Conura spp.) use butterfly and moth pupa as diet, but also will parasitize beetles and flies and some are secondary parasites of Ichneumon and Braconid Wasps.
Velvet ants (Dasymutilla spp.) are not ants, they are wasps.
Leaf-footed Bugs (Leptoglossus phyllopus) are a common visitor to thistle, and while a pest, if it hangs out on the thistle, it isn’t sucking the life out of your citrus.
Various stink bugs, both pests and predatory beneficials.
There are sure to be more species to come and I’ll venture to guess that the birds are waiting in the wings, so to speak, too reap the benefits of this amazing provider.
*This tale was originally published by Loret T. Setters on April 19, 2013 at the defunct national blog beautifulwildlifegarden[dot]com. Click the date to view reader comments.