Western Isles Wildflowers
Western Isles wildflowers is a collection of information about our Hebridean wildflowers including identification hints, traditional herbal uses and general plant lore.
Gaelic name: Cluaran Lèana
We have three of the very prickly species of pink or purple thistles in the Western Isles, marsh, creeping and spear thistle. (We also have the yellow sowthistles)
Marsh thistle is the first of our Hebridean thistles to grow tall and flower.
Marsh and spear thistles look much more prickly than creeping thistle which has green lush foliage, and a milky gloss to it's leaves.
Marsh thistle in particular seems to be more prickles than foliage, and has sparse and very narrow leaves which like those of the spear thistle extend downwards (are decurrent). The generously sized leaves of spear thistle leaves are shaped like spear-heads.
The flowerheads of the marsh thistle are dark, almost purple. (Creeping and spear thistle flowers are lilac).
Marsh and creeping thistle flowerheads are much more elongated and smaller than the spear thistle flower which so often is used as the familiar symbol for Scotland with it's full rounded flowerhead.
Marsh thistle and creeping thistle flowers are only about .0.75 inches across, spear thistle flowers are twice the size at 1 -1.5 inches across.
Marsh thistle likes damp ground, but it is not very fussy and will spead it's seeds widely. It can tolerate maritime exposure.
This wild flower grows very tall up to about 5 feet tall, flowering July to September, and seeding August to October.
The flowers are hermaphrodite and although it can self-pollinate, it attracts bees and other insects to pollinate it.
Marsh thistle is a native plant of the Western Isles.
The young stems and seed stalks of marsh thistle can be eaten raw as a salad, or cooked like asparagus or rhubarb. (after careful peeling!)
The seed-fluff has long been used as tinder.
Marsh thistle attracts bees and butterflies, so is good for honey-production, and generally helping with improving the pollination of plants in the garden.
Marsh thistle is one of the main forage plants of the Great Yellow Bumblebee Bombus distinguendus, a threatened species which still has remnant populations in the Western Isles. Nectar rich grasslands are being planted specifically to help this bumblebee.
The seed of all species of thistle reputedly produce a good oil by expression.
More About Names
The second part of the Latin name the palustre means bog or marsh (we get a lot of palustre varieties of plants in the Western Isles!)
Marsh thistle is also known as kale jonker, and marsh plume thistle.
Uig - Isle of Lewis - Outer Hebrides (Western Isles)
17th June, 2007
(One of the first marsh thistles to flower, and already nearly 4 feet tall, the creeping and spear thistles are only a foot tall at this point, with no flowers at all yet)