This spiny-flowered botanical is perfect for both fresh and dried designs.
by Steven W. Brown, AIFD
1 A THISTLE. Pronounced “EK-in-ops,” these hardy perennials are commonly known as globe thistles. The plants have deeply divided, spiny leaves, which are gray-green above and fuzzy and white beneath. The blossoms are compact round heads of tiny pale blue or grayish-white flowers, resembling thistles. The sphere-shaped flower heads are up to 2 inches in diameter.
2 A EUROPEAN NATIVE. Globe thistles have roots in the old world and are found in western Asia and southeastern Europe, from Russia to southern France, Spain and the Czech and Slovak Republics. They also are native to some of the mountainous areas of tropical Africa.
3 FROM THE DAISY FAMILY. Globe thistles are members of the Asteraceae, or Compositae, family. This family is one of the largest families cultivated for cut flower and food crops. Close relatives include sunflowers, daisies, marigolds, chrysanthemums, Gerberas, Dahlias, Zinnias and lettuce.
4 GREEK SPEAK. Echinops stems from the Greek words “echinos,” which means “sea urchin” or “hedgehog,” and “ops” (appearance), referring to the spiny flower heads.
5 A GLOBAL EFFECT. The steely blue color of globe thistles’ blossoms intensifies at lower temperatures. ‘Taplow Blue’ is a popular cultivar with intense blue flower heads. The repeat-blooming ‘Veitch’s Blue’ is especially desirable for cut flower gardens. Bumblebees, moths and butterflies find the flowers irresistible.
6 HALFWAY SHOPPING. Purchase globe thistles when approximately 50 percent of the flowers are open and at the peak of blue. Watch for any signs of browning or mold in the bunches, and avoid bunches that have discolored or rotted stems.
7 AROUND SUMMER. Globe thistles are available from about May through October from Holland and year-round from California. Fresh, they will last for seven to 25 days. Dry, they can last for years.
8 CUT AND DIP. Process globe thistles by removing their packaging as soon as they arrive in the store. Remove any foliage that would fall below water levels. Recut the stems, and dip or place them into a hydration solution following the directions on the package label. Place the flowers into clean vases with properly prepared fresh flower-food solution. Place flowers into a floral cooler for at least two hours to hydrate before selling or designing with them.
9 FRESH AND DRY. Globe thistles can be used fresh or dried. They are suitable for drying if they are harvested before fully blooming. To dry them, hang them upside down in a dry, hot area. The dried flowers can be sprayed with sealant, lacquer, shellac or paint.
10 DANGER, DANGER! Soft hands and feet can be cut by the leaves and macelike flower heads; keep them off the floor, and wear protective shoes and gloves when handling globe thistles.
Steven W. Brown, AIFD, is a professor and department chair of horticulture and floristry at City College of San Francisco with 26 years of consulting and educational experience in the floral industry.