An Unwieldy Weed, or a Plant with a Purpose?

Rev Andrew Kingston, Donnybrook, Dublin sent ECI this reflection:

My father used to say that God made everything for a purpose. It led to inevitable “what abouts” but he always had an answer. One of those could be the teasel. It is prickly and it takes up a lot of space crowding out other plants. There doesn’t seem to be any certainty that the teasel is even a native weed. It may have been introduced from the Mediterranean by the woollen guilds who displayed it on their coats of arms. They used the teasel heads to raise the nap on garments, teasing out the woollen fibres. Those in the industry would hold that it did so more effectively than the metal successors as the naturally occurring hooks on the teasel heads have more “give” and don’t damage the fibres.

Teasel is a biannual. One unique characteristic is the line thorns along the spine of the back of the leaves. An app on my phone (PictureThis) identified this little weed as a teasel and I allowed a weed to grow last year, and it kept growing. Another interesting characteristic are the natural basins that grow in the base of the stems. These are called Venus basins, and some would claim that the water gathered here has cures. I’m not sure about that, but they do provide water for insects and presumably small birds, and may be there to attract pollinators. The plant is now over eight feet tall (my wife is not a fan – it is cramping an acacia tree, a vine, flax and a mallow) and has a diameter of seven feet, and over 100 teasel heads. The largest egg shaped head, of which there is only one is called the ‘king’. He is surrounded by a number of slightly smaller ‘queens’, and the little ones are called ‘buttons’, or ‘princes’. The bees love the flowers, and later charms of goldfinches gather for the seeds. Flower arrangers like the old seed heads, and I have identified another in a better place that will, I hope, perform equally well next year.