Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 30.djvu/113

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101
THISTLES.

THISTLES.
By GRANT ALLEN.

THERE is no weed weedier or more ubiquitous than the common thistle. In paradise, it is true, if we may trust John Milton and the Sunday-school books—wise, as usual, beyond what is written—there were no thorns or thistles; the creation and introduction of the noxious tribe upon this once innocent and thornless earth being a direct consequence of the fall of man, and a stern retribution for Adam's delinquency. But since then the thistle has managed so to diffuse itself over the habitable globe that there hardly now remains a spot on earth without its own local representative of that ever-intrusive and conquering genus. Wherever civilized man goes, there the thistle accompanies him as a matter of course in his various wanderings. It adapts itself to all earthly environments. Close up to the Arctic Circle you find it defying the indigenous reindeer with its prickly wings; under an equatorial sky you may observe it accommodating itself most complacently with a sardonic smile to tropical existence, and battling with the prickly cactuses and the thorny acacias, to the manner born, for its fair share of the dry and arid uplands. Even nettles are nowhere in competition with it; in spite of its valuable and irritating sting, the nettle has not the plasticity and adaptability of constitution that mark the stout and sturdy thistle tribe. Garnered and harvested yearly with the farmer's corn, its seeds have been gratuitously distributed by its enemy, man, in all climates; and, when once it gains the slightest foothold, its winged down enables it to diffuse itself ad infinitum through the virgin soil of yet unconquered and unthistly continents. A field of thistles in England itself is a beautiful sight for the enthusiastic botanist (who has usually a low opinion of the agricultural interest); but in the fresh and fallow earth of New Zealand they attain a yet more prodigious and portentous stature, that might well strike awe and dismay into the stout heart of a Berkshire farmer.

The fact is, the thistle is one of those bellicose plants which specially lay themselves out, in the struggle for existence, for the occupation of soils where they are compelled to defend their leaves and stems from the constant attacks of the larger herbivores. On open plains and wide steppes, much browsed over in the wild state by deer or buffalo, and in the degenerate civilized condition by more prosaic cows and donkeys, one may always note that only the prickliest and most defensive plants have any chance of gaining a livelihood. Gorse and blackthorn form the central core of the little bushy clumps on our English commons, grown over thickly with bramble and dog-rose, or interspersed every here and there with occasional