Sow thistle is a springtime wildflower that pops up in lawns, fields and roadsides with abandon. This tall, prickly, yellow-flowered plant with fluffy seedheads is related to dandelions and sunflowers. Although it is a hardy perennial wildflower, most people consider sow thistle a perennial problem. It is usually mowed down well before it has a chance to flower and produce an abundance of white windborne seeds.
However, if left alone, sow thistle can provide human foragers with a nutritious green vegetable.
To learn about how to identify and cook sow thistle, watch this 9-minute video by Orlando-based wild plant expert, Green Deane.
More importantly, it can also provide seed-eating birds like the American goldfinch with an important source of food. Lately, goldfinches, seasonal visitors to Florida that travel in flocks, have been attracted to the sow thistles in our yard and I've been having great fun watching these yellow-white-and-black-feathered birds fill up on thistle seeds.
|American goldfinch with a beak full of sow thistle seeds|
But seed-eaters aren't the only birds attracted to this lance-leafed plant. Birds that eat insects like palm warblers and yellow-rumped warblers are also drawn to sow thistle. However, instead of targeting plant seeds, warblers are after the ants, aphids and other small insects crawling up and down plant stems and leaves.
In the short video below, a palm warblers finds a feast on a sow thistle plant.
I know prickly weeds will never be a welcome feature in most landscapes but I like to think there are others like me who see leaving a few weedy plants alone to feed birds and engage with nature without having to buy expensive nyjer seed (thistle) for our avian friends.
Instead of madly mowing down, pulling out or (gasp!) spraying with herbicides, I prefer to simply let nature be, believing that landscapes are more interesting when they're dotted with natural wonders. If birds can appreciate the positive features of prickly plants, so can I.