On Spinosity and Stinging Affections ~ a note on the Cotton Thistle

Baruch Spinoza wasn’t far from the truth when he said “The investigation of Nature in general is the basis of philosophy”

I stood in the presence of giants today. The tallest cotton thistle (I have ever seen) and I, inhabited a moment of stillness, of biblical proportions. The company of plants is never boring and I love a challenge;  this non-native vigorous biennial with coarse, spiny leaves provoked me to write a poem.

Onopordum acanthium is from the family Asteraceae, with especially large populations of this flowering plant existing in the United States [1] Spiny bracts and globose flower heads sporting coloured ray and disc florets are simply beautiful.

The cotton thistle is considered a noxious invasive weed for it reduces the production of forage, prohibits land utilization for livestock and blocks access for people and wildlife. The dense stands of the large, spiny plants exclude animals from grazing as well as access to water [2] We pattern the presence of plants tailored to our own existence but this species is a great source of nectar for insects. In the time I stood next to a variety of wild flowers, all stinging insects made a beeline for the cotton thistle.

This variety of  plant tends to colonise disturbed pastures. In its native range, cotton thistle is weakly competitive and needs gaps to regenerate, to develop and maintain stands; populations of Cotton Thistle tend to retreat when disturbance ceases [1] So it is ironically a plant that grows in the absence of aggressive competitors, for a disturbed pasture is essentially one where the land is stripped of vegetation through man-made changes to the land surface, like clearing or excavation.

On Stings and Spines and Nails of Crosses
The land was disturbed 
in an upheaval of community,
crowns displaced, roots exiled.
When cotton thistle staked claim
to sodden earth bogged in tearful
commiserations, it resurrected like
the flower of Christ. Invasive,
émigré? What's Native ? No man
was ever a prophet in his own land.
And here, preaching a gospel
of love were a globulised community
of centripetal rays and centrifugal
discs, they turned the other cheek
and more. Bees with stingers went soft
on compassionate flowers unwrapping
sweetly, nectar or love.
They crossed stings and spines
and even nails, paled in comparison.
The flower lives to sweeten
the life of a bee and the bee
exists to ferry love to flowers.

References:

[1]~https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Onopordum_acanthium

[2]~https://www.nwcb.wa.gov/weeds/scotch-thistle