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What are Echinops?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 12 November 2019
  • Copyright Protected:
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Echinops is a large genus of flowering plants in the aster family, Asteraceae. These plants are known by the common name of “globe thistle” and are cultivated as ornamentals in many regions of the world, in addition to being abundantly common in the natural environment. Seedlings and seeds can be purchased at nurseries, and gardeners can also propagate through divisions of existing plants.

As the name implies, globe thistles produce flowers in a spherical shape. The flowers can be blue to purple and vary in size, as does the rest of the plant, depending on the species. Like other thistles, members of the Echinops genus produce prickles to protect themselves from predation. The plants can grow up to four feet (over one meter) tall, and in rich soil, they can grow tall enough to fall over under their own weight. Gardeners with good soil conditions may want to consider staking their plants to keep them upright.

Echinops has adapted to coarse, poor soil conditions. These plants prefer well-drained soil and will tolerate dry and poor soils with equanimity. They also do not mind drought conditions and are suitable for low water gardening and xeriscaping. United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) zones three through nine generally provide conditions hospitable to members of this genus, and they can sometimes be cultivated in colder regions as very brief annuals.

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In the garden, Echinops species will attract both bees and butterflies, making them a good landscaping choice for people interested in attracting beneficial insects. The flowers can also be cut and displayed, fresh or dried. They will retain their shape and color if handled carefully and can be displayed along or paired with other flowers and foliage. When handling dried flowers, it is important to remember that the sharp prickles can be quite painful to encounter. It is helpful to wear gloves while arranging the thistles to avoid injuries.

Echinops has a clumping growth habit and grows best when it is cultivated in massed plantings. Because the plants can be unpleasant to bump into, they should be kept clear of paths and other high traffic areas. The height makes these thistles suitable for background planting. Deadheading will prevent the thistles from reseeding, for people concerned about spreading. Because a single globe thistle can produce a copious number of seeds, Echinops species can become a nuisance in the garden if they are not carefully controlled.

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