Thistles and Cones


There may be 4 seasons on the calendar, but here in the Ozarks our days and weeks are filled with micro seasons, one following another. It’s a part of the rhythms of this place – redbuds, rains, dogwoods, whippoorwills, tiger lilies, fawns – that’s just three weeks in April and May.

Right now one of my favorite seasons is drawing to a close – thistles and coneflowers – both grow wild along roadsides. Both can be a rich pink, both reach skyward, and both wither leaving just a round silhouette that lingers for a few weeks.


The coneflower is actually echinacea. This one is a part of a group that grows near the bottom of my hill. This group mostly have very thin petals.


There is a thistle patch right across the parking lot from my office. The city cut a drainage ditch and the turning of the earth has created an amazing garden of volunteers.


The patch is shot here seems to grow in groups of two or three. The soil on the roadside is rocky and steep, still they thrive.


Last year we had some very heavy spring rains and a hillside below a spring gave way – the trees on the hill were destroyed. The city planted some wild grasses to stabilize the slope, it looks like the thistles have volunteered to assist in the process.


On the steepest hillsides the cone’s petals dangle and sway with the wind.



Both flowers have a distinctive radial geometry to their centers.


This one makes me think of an umbrella frame.


This one reminds me of a lampshade.



The center of both flowers dominate their shapes.


My 99 year-old neighbor, Mary Jane, introduced me to thistles a few years back. She asked me to go on a hike with her down into a hollow one Saturday. I thought we were going to see a waterfall. We got to the bottom and she sent me up the other side to a vantage point. I scouted a path for her, thinking we must be headed to an amazing place. She took the lead and we ended up in a completely desolate path on the side of a mountain. It was a spot that the local electric coop had treated with herbicide – cheaper to use poison than to employ some guys with chainsaws :/ anyway, we had climbed to this place with a purpose. She took off her pack and handed me a stack of envelopes. Each was full of wild thistle seeds. We scattered them and hiked home. When we got back to Mary Jane’s place she took me out to a spot in the woods behind her house – we could see the spot where we had just been clearly in the distance. That hike was not about a waterfall, it was about resurrecting the ground that progress had destroyed. Mary Jane could no longer bare to look at its deadness so we planted thistles. Years later they thrive.


The thistles are fading, that can only mean that the season of air conditioning cannot be far behind.

16 thoughts on “Thistles and Cones

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