Autumn is trying to unseat summer, and it is a fight. The hurricane season has started rather late this year, but it has started. The plants know their time is nearing their end. The Indian grass is beautiful with full heads of tiny flowers, the sunflowers are peaking, the Liatris is now showing purple spikes, and the Tall Thistle is covered in shaving brushes. More about the thistles....

Friday the 13th in September of 2013 Blog

Becky Emerson Carlberg

Autumn is trying to unseat summer over the next few days before its official arrival September 22nd, and it is a fight.  There are tropical depressions and potential hurricanes now forming rather late in the season.  For the Atlantic, the season runs from June 1st to November 30th.  Gabrielle is turning away the US coast, Humberto has weakened, and Ingrid is now stationary in southern Mexico.

The plants know their time is coming to an end.  The Indian grass is beautiful, with full heads waving in the breeze.  Many sunflowers are peaking, but Maximilian’s Sunflower (Helianthus Maximiliani) is just now beginning to bloom along the roads.  You can recognize them by their unbranched stems with the flowers lining the stem and possible heights of up to 12 feet or taller. The common sunflower is very branched and may top 6 feet. 

The name Maximiliani was given to honor Prince Maximilian of Wied-Neuwied, Germany (1782-1867).  He accompanied one expedition to Brazil (1815-1817), encountered the tribe called the Botocudos and wrote detailed descriptions of them.  He collected plants and insects, many of which were lost while he was detained for extensive questioning.  So the prince left Brazil with what he had left.  In 1832 Prince Maximilian then came to the Great Plains region accompanied by Swiss painter Karl Bodmer and their group traveled up the Missouri River.  The prince kept journals about the peoples and wildlife he encountered during the years spent in North America.  Watercolor pictures of Native Americans done by Bodmer were included in Maximilian’s  book published in 1840 “Travels in the interior of North America”.  So Maximilian is remembered every time this sunflower grows and blooms!  Well done Max.

The Liatris (Snakeroot) is now displaying thick fuzzy spikes of small purple flowers.  Tall thistles are also covered in purple blooms, but are much larger and come with spines.  As one person noted, the flower heads are shaped like shaving brushes.  I have one thistle I nursed from last year to this year.  These are biennials: plants that establish themselves a good root system the first year, bloom the second year and then it is all over; they are finished.  Some call them 2 year plants. 

The Tall thistle (Cirsium altissimum) grows throughout the center of the United States, but not the west or New England.  It is a native plant and the Cherokee liked to use thistle down as tails in blow darts and the roots in an infusion to treat overeating.  Spiny Prilosec.  The OSU factsheet PSU 2776 on “Thistles in Oklahoma and their identification” is a cool factsheet on thistles.  It has an easy key with pictures you can follow to help you distinguish one thistle from another.  Yes, we have some non-native invasives, but the Tall, Wavy leaf, Yellow spine and Yellow thistles are all native plants.  In other words, do not go out and eradicate these plants without positive identification.  They serve very useful purposes.  Butterflies, bees (especially bumble), moths and skippers visit flowers for nectar and pollen and don’t forget the Pine siskins, Purple and House finches and Goldfinches.  They love thistle seed.  The goldfinches build their nests and lay eggs much later than many birds, and prefer the thistle seed silk to line their nests.

I could go into a discussion on Nyjer seed right now, but shall save that for a future blog.  Keep in mind Nyjer seed (Guizotia abyssinica) is usually the seed people think is thistle in wildbird seed concoctions.   This seed is from African yellow daisies but is similar to thistle seed, and is sometimes marketed as thistle seed.

See, Friday the 13th was not so bad after all!  Watch and water your plants (if they were not lucky in getting any rain.  Mine are still quite dry and crispy and I hear “water, water” quietly whispered as I walk past them). 

The plants are also telling you Fall is just around the corner.  Begin thinking about what plants you plan on bringing indoors and where they will go.  Inspect for pests and repot those that have outgrown their pots.  Keep the insecticidal soap or Neem horticultural oil on hand.   They will come into good use when time comes to possibly spray the plants prior to moving indoors.

Definitely look at the Oklahoma State Factsheet on thistles.  Find it at:

Do you love the sound of bird songs?  Want to know how to identify native plants and how to attract birds and butterflies to your yard?  Do you love nature?  Join us as a member of the Oklahoma Master Naturalists, a group of volunteers dedicated to learning about and preserving Oklahoma’s rich biological diversity and sharing this knowledge with others.

The Oklahoma Master Naturalists invite you to attend the Urban Ecosystem Workshop tomorrow, Saturday, September 14th, from 9am to 3pm.  The program and hike will be held at Martin Park Nature Center, 5000 West Memorial Road, NW OKC.  RSVP or (405) 227-6020.  Visit the web at