Another easy wildflower for wildlife

15 May 2013

Teasels! Or if you want to get technical about it, dipsacus fullonum in this case – there are others in the family.

Red Admiral on teasel

Red Admiral on teasel

Teasels are bienniels, which means they start growing one year but don’t flower until the next. This doesn’t matter once you have got them going, but if you want a reliable supply of them you are advised to grow them two years running – after that they will self seed. As you can see in the photo above, they are really unusual in that their flowers don’t open from the bottom up, as many do, or even from the top down, like some: they open in rings around the flower. They are great wildlife value, as the blooms are attractive to butterflies and to bees, and then the seedheads are a great draw for birds, especially goldfinches.  In the photo below you can see the brown seedheads standing above the pink michaelmas daisies and the lavender aster frikartii ‘Monch’.

Teasels among michaelmas daisies and asters

Teasels among michaelmas daisies and asters

In their first year, they only make low-growing rosettes of leaves, but in year two the main stem goes up and produces a bloom, then the various side stems come out too. In my very fertile soil they can reach 4-5′ (1.5m). The area where the side stems join the main stem form a cup-like formation which catches water, and the word “teasel” is thought to derive from the word for thirst. Why the plant grows these water-catchers is uncertain: it could be a trap for aphids etc trying to climb up the stem, and there is even a suggestion that the plant can derive nutrition from the drowned insects – a sort of amateur fly-catcher arrangement.

They are a very architectural plant and usually only need staking towards the end of their life. You can leave them standing all through the winter for a bit of extra interest in the garden – and the birds will like it too. The only thing I’ve got against them is that they are quite prickly, so I’d advise keeping them away from paths. Some people complain at how they self sow, but they are easy enough to remove even when big: they don’t have much of a root system.

So – sow a teasel today, and keep your wildlife happy.

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