About us: We own the Wild Birds Unlimited nature shop in East Lansing, Michigan,
a store that provides a wide variety of supplies to help you enjoy the birdwatching hobby.

This blog was created to answer frequently asked questions & to share nature stories and photographs.
To contribute, email me at bloubird@gmail.com.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Round fluffy white seeds floating in wind

Do you notice the round fluffy white seeds floating around on the breeze in July and August? When I’m at the Wild Birds Unlimited - East Lansing store I can see them from my desk traveling across the parking lot, flitting around on the wind, trapping themselves in spider webs and plants, begging to be caught and wished upon and released again.
Photo by Magnus Manske
Which plant is producing all these seeds with fluffy parachutes? There are 20 different kinds of native thistle plants in the U.S. However the seeds I’m seeing probably belong to Canada thistle Cirsium arvense, also called Creeping thistle.

From June to September they produce numerous one inch, fragrant, lavender-pink flower heads. These flowers eventually develop into thousands of seeds, each with a hair-like tuft that opens up to catch the wind and disperse. Canada Thistles are invasive, noxious weeds, but they’ve also been known in history to try and heal illnesses, such as headaches, canker sores, vertigo and jaundice.

Hummingbirds, bees, and butterflies also appreciate flowers for their nectar. And American Goldfinches time their nesting season so that their nestlings hatch about the time that thistle seeds are ripe to feed to their young.

Canada Thistle is found throughout Michigan as well as the most of the United States, Canada, Europe, northern Asia, and elsewhere. Though its name might suggest otherwise, Canada thistle isn’t a native of Canada and has spread so extensively that it is difficult to distinguish the plant's original native range. It is thought to have come from the Mediterranean region and southeast Europe, perhaps mixed in with grain seed or as hitchhikers in the ballast of ships.

Canada Thistle Cirsium arvense is considered a weed even where it is native but is in not related to Nyjer® (thistle) Guizotia abyssinica a tiny black birdseed that we use to fill the finch feeders. Nyjer seed, a favorite of our American Goldfinches, does not grow weeds and has been heat treated to prevent the growth of any noxious seeds.

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