801 Echinops ritroCommon Names: small globe thistle Family: Asteraceae (aster/daisy Family)
Small globe thistle is a clump forming herbaceous perennial with coarse, prickly leaves to 8 in (20.3 cm) long, and rigid, usually branched, flowering stems 2-3 ft (0.6-0.9 m) tall. The leaves are stiff and deeply dissected into spine tipped lobes, gray-green, patterned with cobweb like markings on top, and densely white-wooly beneath. The basal leaves are much larger than the stem leaves. The spherical flowerheads are 1-2 in (2.5-5.1 cm) in diameter, silvery blue at first and maturing to bright blue. Within the flowerhead, the tiny tubular flowers are each surrounded by bristly silverish bracts that extend beyond the actual flowers, giving the head a spiny texture. The flower stems branch 2-6 times and each branch bears a single flowerhead. There are several species of globe thistles available in the horticultural trade; most are larger than small globe thistle, but pretty similar otherwise. 'Taplow Blue' has metallic blue flowers on vigorous 3-4 ft (0.9-1.2 m) stems. 'Veitch's Blue' blooms repeatedly with vivid dark blue flowers on 2 ft (0.6 m) stems.
Small globe thistle, Echinops ritro, is native to western Asia and eastern Europe from Russia to southern France and Spain.
CultureThe globe thistles are best grown on poor, sandy soils. In richer organic soils, with plenty of watering, they may grow so much as to require staking. If you cut flowerheads for dried arrangements early in the season the plants may bloom again. Light: Full sun. Moisture: Water regularly. Once established, small globe thistle is moderately drought tolerant. Hardiness: USDA Zones 3 - 10. Small globe thistle is very tolerant of hot weather, but cool nights result in more intense flower colors. Propagation: Divide root clumps in winter, or sow seed in spring.
The globe thistles are bold and rewarding perennials for herbaceous borders. Small globe thistle is especially useful in smaller gardens and in mixed flower plantings. The basal leaves tend to deteriorate, so conceal them with smaller plants that allow the colorful flowerheads to stand above. Globe thistle is valued for dried arrangements, but the flowerheads must be cut just before the tiny flowers are fully open. Dry quickly upside-down in a warm, airy environment, and they will retain their blue color. The repeat-blooming 'Veitch's Blue' is especially desirable for the cut flower garden. Bumblebees, moths and butterflies find the flowers irresistible.
Undemanding and well behaved, globe thistles are reliable performers in full sun and poor soils in virtually any climate.
Soft hands and feet could be cut by the leaves and mace-like flowerheads.
Steve Christman 9/16/00; updated 10/31/03