|Monarch on teasel -- © Dave Spier|
Teasel -- © Dave Spier
For all their prickles, one might imagine that teasels are somehow related to thistles, but are in fact in their own family (Dipsacaceae). They were brought to this country from the Mediterranean and used to tease (comb) wool, giving it the nicknames "clothier’s-brush" and "gypsy-comb." After the lilac-colored flowers are gone, the stalks and egg-shaped, pincushion heads remain stiff and withstand all but the heaviest of storms. They can be collected and used throughout the fall and winter, but now their utility seems limited to decoration. I’ve seen them spray-painted gold and added to flower decorations, but I assume the arranger was wearing gloves.
There are two common teasel species, both growing in fields and road edges. Cut-leaved Teasel, Dipsacus laciniatus, has large, opposite leaves that join and clasp around the stem so much they form a cup that holds rain water. (We should be so lucky as to get enough rain this summer.) The genus name is from the Greek word dipsa, meaning "thirst," and refers to the cup effect. The edges of laciniatus leaves are deeply lobed and fingered, hence "lacerated." The second species, Dipsacus sylvestris, has fairly smooth-edged leaves that sometimes barely clasp the main stalk without forming much of a cup.
Although an imported alien species from Eurasia and Africa, the teasel's lavender, or sometimes white, flowers are attractive to humans and butterflies. In the photo a Monarch is carefully drinking nectar from the tiny florets between the prickles.
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