Cotton Thistle
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Cotton Thistle
ative Photo: Uttam Lal
Common name: Cotton Thistle, Scotch thistle, Scottish thistle, Spear thistle
Botanical name: Onopordum acanthium    Family: Asteraceae (Sunflower family)

Cotton thistle is a biennial plant, producing a large rosette of spiny leaves the first year. The plants typically germinate in the autumn after the first rains and exist as rosettes throughout the first year, forming a stout, fleshy taproot that may extend down 30 cm or more for a food reserve. In the second year, the plant grows 0.5–3 m tall and a width of 1.5 m. The leaves are 10–50 cm wide, are alternate and spiny, often covered with white woolly hairs, with the lower surface more densely covered than the upper. The leaves are deeply lobed with long, stiff spines along the margins. The leaves have winged appearance that continues down the stems of the plant. Fine hairs give the plant a greyish appearance. The massive, main stem may be 10 cm wide at the base, and is branched in the upper part. Each stem shows a vertical rows of broad, spiny wings (conspicuous ribbon-like leafy material), typically 2-3 cm wide, extending to the base of the flower head. The flowers are globe-shaped, 3-5 cm in diameter, from dark pink to lavender, and are produced in the summer from July to September. The flower buds form first at the tip of the stem and later at the tip of the axillary branches. The flower heads exist singly or in groups of 2 or 3 on branch tips. The botanical name is derived from the Greek words onos (donkey), perdo (to consume), and acanthos (thorn), meaning 'thorny plant eaten by donkeys'. The common name Cotton thistle derives from the cotton-like hairs on the leaves; the name Scotch thistle comes from a legend that the plant's thorny thickets helped protect Scotland from the Vikings. Oral folklore holds that as Vikings attempted to sneak up at night to attack and raid Scottish villages, they were stuck by the thistles' thorns and cried out in pain, alerting the townsfolk to the attack and allowing them to fight back and drive back the invaders. Following this the Thistle was adopted as the floral emblem of Scotland. Flowering: July.
Identification credit: Tabish Photographed in the Himalayas.
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