The Eryngium Thistle: Butterfly Bush and Rattlesnake Repeller

The Eryngium Thistle: Butterfly Bush and Rattlesnake Repeller

I spotted a new favorite flower while waiting for my smoked salmon and scrambled eggs and the boyfriend’s croque madame, sitting outside at a table on the patio of Look Mum No Hands, a restaurant, bakery, and bicycle repair shop. A typical grey morning in London, a collection of cut flowers in green-glass bottles caught our eyes, and we grabbed one to add a dash of color to our unfinished wood tabletop. The blueish-purple thistle stood out against the browns and greys of the day, and I went straight to the answer machine to find out how I could have more of them in my daily life. Upon Googling the photos I snapped (and the help of a Facebook friend who pulls endless amounts of them from her flower-bed in France), I learned it was called an Eryngium “Sapphire Blue” thistle from the Apiaceae family.  Say THAT five times fast.  The flower is often called Sea Holly (a bit easier on the tongue) and is not only drought resistant, but also attracts butterflies and hummingbirds to your garden, and reportedly repels rattlesnakes.

An image search revealed the popularity of Sea Holly in bouquets and centerpieces as well as an easy-to-grow garden favorite.  To add them to your yard, table tops, or bridal ensemble, plant the thistle in a space that receives full sun, with plenty of drainage, as they will not survive wet, soggy soil.  According to BHG, these perennials “thrive on neglect,” so they also make a perfect gift for the would-be gardener who claims their green thumb has turned grey.

“A weed is but an unloved flower.”  ― Ella Wheeler Wilcox

If unwanted, these thistles may be labeled weeds, so you’ll want to prune and deadhead fading flowers to encourage a longer flowering season, as well as to prevent them from self-seeding and taking over your garden.  Easy to love, they’re not only ornamental, but have health benefits as well. Many of the family Apiaceae have been used in folk medicine or as an herbal remedy for scorpion stings in Jordan. If you’re interested in researching more, take a look at the scintillatingly titled Phytochemical Constituents and Pharmacological Activities of Eryngium L. (Apiaceae), which states that “Some Eryngium species are cultivated as ornamental, vegetable, or medicinal crops for folk uses. With increasing chemical and biological investigations, Eryngium has shown its potential as pharmaceutical crops.”  The review explores the potential use for the plant in “anti-inflammatory, anti-snake and scorpion venoms, antibacterial, antifungal, and antimalarial, antioxidant, and antihyperglycemic effects.”

If you’re simply looking to add more to bring the birds and butterflies to your yard, be sure to plant your Eryngium in a permanent place where its long taproot can reach deep down.  Check out GardeningKnowHow for a list of Sea Holly varietals, from the Rattlesnake Master, so named because of the myth that the plant could cure snake bites, to the Giant Sea Holly, a.k.a. Miss Wilmot’s Ghost (named for English gardener Ellen Wilmot).  These thistles seem to tell tales with each planting…what story does your garden tell?  Share photos with us on Twitter at @TheCityFarm

(Photo Credit: Rebecca Snavely, center bouquet from TribalRoseFlowers)