Thistle Query

Sometimes I get asked about my thought process when it comes to ‘green thinking’.

Today I came across an illustrative example.13070023

I was out on a run, and was distracted by a large number of photogenic thistles in a field of goldening wheat. I stopped and pulled out my cellphone camera to snap a couple of shots, which required me to step up into the field itself. Actually, I thought they were thistles at first, but then noticed they had no spines – I suspected a kind of Centaurea. So my first idle question was to figure out exactly what they were when I got home.

It was only then that I noticed the many bees moving around the blossoms. Not frantically, but as if they had all the time in the world to gather pollen from this particular source. Looking out over the field, I realized that it was rife with purple blossoms (cornflowers? pink bleuets?), large patches of the stuff, purple islands in the gold.

We’ve lived in this area for almost 20 years, and every year, the photogenic fields look like this:

Wheat fields, eastern France, 2012

Wheat fields, eastern France, 2012

Filled with the red of the common poppy. So regular is the distribution of poppy among the wheat that I’ve always assumed it was planted along with the grain for some reason of soil nutrition. Surely otherwise any herbicides would have wiped out the poppies along with everything else.

CIMG0384But this year? Almost no poppies. There are the roadside swathes of red, not to mention the errant poppies that manage to grow between the flagstones of our terrace, but the fields are just golden. Except for these pretty flowers.

So I wonder:

Have the herbicides changed?

Was a diluted herbicide applied to this field (since I’m pretty sure this isn’t an organic crop)?

What makes these flowers (centaury?) special and why are they flourishing in a few fields this year?

Given the number of bees harvesting pollen on this field, what will they use for pollen once the field is harvested? And since harvesting equipment is already positioned on the field in these pictures, and rain is predicted for the rest of the week, I’m guessing harvesting must be imminent.

Also: What happened to all the poppies? Was I wrong about the intentional seeding of poppies, and for some reason, they no longer survive current herbicides? If they were intentionally planted, why has the practice stopped?

And so on and so forth. These questions all popped into my mind during the 3-4 minutes it took me to take my pictures.

It’s not that I have answers to any of these questions, or even that I will go out of my way to resolve my puzzlement in this particular case.

It’s just how I approach a thistle, that’s all.13070025

And, by the way, I think the flowers are Centaurea scabiosa, also known as knapweed or centaury. A common weedy plant in temperate regions of Europe and Asia.

All photos: PK Read

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