Now thistles bloom. Their pink-purple flowers are an emblem of the greatness of growth and the strength of life in early autumn. They are part of a Landscape which includes the first scarlet buckeye leaf at the edge of the woods, part of the dark green depth of the oak leaves, part of that stamina characteristic of summer plants which grow in hot sunshine and dry soil. They must be strong to withstand a beating sun and a degree of hot humidity which is part of summer in the Mississippi valley.
Cirsium discolor ( Muhl. ) Sprcng.
Late Summer - Autumn Fields, roadsides.
Around the pasture pond the thistle blossoms attract bumblebees which come buzzing in basso to visit the white, pollen-tipped stamens and probe deeply into the nectaries of thistle honey. The thistle butterfly (Vanessa cardui) perhaps laid eggs upon these spiny leaves. Upon them now the caterpillars feed, form chrysalids, emerge as brown and golden-patterned butterflies which sip the thistle nectar.
Goldfinches in bounding black and yellow flight dart singing into the thistles. Already the earlier blooms have formed fluff-topped seeds, and these the goldfinches eat. They neatly snip off the meaty seeds and allow the silks to go floating off across the countryside. Perhaps in the thistles, too, there is a goldfinch nest lined with thistle down. Within the thorny fortress the goldfinch nest was safe.
This is the thistle and its late summer-early autumn environment, its part in the end of the growing season and the approach of winter. The insects and birds, the sunshine and wind and rain, which are part of the thistle's existence, also are part of that complex life which is in Illinois and the flowers which upholster it with color.