Echinops or Globe Thistle (Echinops ritro)
Globe thistle is a large perennial producing steely blue globe shaped, spiky structures of buds with little blue flowers emerging from them. The flowers add a fun texture as fresh cut flowers and dried. Don’t worry, they’re not true thistles so they don’t hurt to handle them.
The plants tolerate drought and poor soils and are very attractive to bees and other pollinators. They’re deer resistant, too!
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The flower globes are 1-1½” wide. They emerge from the plant in midsummer, develop their beautiful blue color, and then each spike opens to let a blue flower out. The flower stems are sturdy and white. They’re well-branched, making each flower stem short. But they still can be used in fresh flower arrangements. See Harvesting below for exactly when to harvest for fresh and for dried use.
The plants get up to 4’ tall but are herbaceous perennials, dying down to a smidge of identifiable foliage. The foliage is dark green with white undersides and shaped like thistle leaves. They’re a little prickly, but not painful like thistles.
Growing the plants
Seeds are available for several varieties of globe thistle. They’re easy to start but take a year or two to start flowering. Many varieties are available in pots, too. This will get you off to a quicker start.
Space them about 18 in. apart in full sun (6 hrs. direct sun per day.)
As mentioned above, the plants tolerate drought, or low water, and poorer soils. I like to give mine average to good garden soil and I water them deeply and infrequently.
They can be planted to form a small hedge and can be used outside of a deer fence where they’ll add a pollinator haven with a pretty color and some interesting texture.
In some parts of the country, the milder climates, globe thistle is known to reseed abundantly. This can be prevented with deadheading—or harvesting the flowers for indoor bouquets. If you have a hedge and find too many seedlings, just deadhead before the seeds form and drop out of the globes. Or stay on top of weeding out the volunteers.
The white, sturdy stems are so branched it’s hard to get long stems off them, unless you cut the side shoots. I like the globes so much I just make short bouquets with them so I don’t lose globes.
To cut for fresh use, it’s best to cut them just when the little flowers are just emerging or just before they emerge. When the flowers emerge, the tops come out first making a hair-like appearance. My preference is to cut them early in that process.
For drying, cut them before or very early in the flowering phase. If you catch them later they’ll have some petals that will dry, too, and will make the globes look a little “hairy”.
No special care in drying, they’re all ready to use.
There are a few different species and varieties of Echinops offered. There are differences in some, but I honestly think the species and varieties get mixed up a bit. But here are the best I found, sources of plants may have different names, so use photos to help.
Echinops ritro is the only one I grow, it’s a good blue. But I may try ‘Veitch’s Blue’ soon.
E. ritro: Species plant, good blue and good performance overall
E. ritro ‘Veitch’s Blue’: Shorter plant to 3-3½ ft. tall
E. ritro “Platinum Blue’: Smaller plant to 3 ft. tall
E. ruthenicus: Smaller globes
E. banaticus ‘Blue Glow’: 4 ft. plant with a darker blue flower
E. banaticus ‘Star Frost’’: White globes
How many plants
A few would be good for a supply of fresh and dried flowers (remember to plant odd numbers for best garden aesthetics). Or make a hedge if you have space since it is deer resistant.