I’ve written before about the value of native thistles, both to pollinators and other parts of prairie ecosystems. Tall thistle (Cirsium altissimum), in particular, seems to be a key food resource for pollinators during the late growing season, including the migration period for monarch butterflies. Here in the Platte River Prairies, we include native thistles in our seed mixes for prairie restoration work and try to promote them through our management activities. Here are some photos of tall thistle from last month.
This bee was one of many feeding from tall thistles this fall.
Skippers like this one often feed from thistles, but this one was just resting on top of a half-empty seed head.
While bees get great value from tall thistles, this one got trapped and killed by the sticky substance on the bracts beneath the flowers (which is probably meant to capture nectar-stealing ants).
Native thistles are so misunderstood and undervalued. Thanks for this essay Chris!
A good friend and myself tagged several hundred Monarchs this fall in NE Kansas (she tagged most of them), and while some were on aster and goldenrod, the vast majority of them were feeding on native thistle when captured.
you take fantastic photos of both plants, insects, & landscapes. Are you familiar with Heather Holm’s books, “Pollinators of Native Plants” and her 2017 newest book on native bees ? She spoke to the Oklahoma Native Plant Soc. recently and is an excellent author and speaker.
Beautiful. Thank you.
Gorgeous pics, as usual. The way you use sunlight is amazing, especially on these thistle seeds. Sunrise or sunset, yes? Perfect tone for the seeds. Thank you!
Neat post! Native thistles also perform well in our seed mixes for Central Texas savannas, where competition with non-native invasive old-world bluestems can be fierce. Texas Thistle is somehow able to come up amidst the densest grass thatch.
I wonder why the thistle sets a trap for ants? Doesn’t it provide nectar exactly for the purpose of luring them and other potentially pollenating insects?
Ants are generally poor pollinators, partly because they aren’t fuzzy, so they mostly steal thistle nectar with no benefit to the plant.