Carlina acaulis Thistle

posted in: Gardening | 24
The Carlina acaulis thistle has the most wonderful ground hugging spiky leaves hence the name Carline Thistle. It is about 30 cm tall when in flower. It has creamy white flower petals that look and feel like a dried flower. The flowers start to open in July and all summer it attracts the wildlife. Sometimes it seems like there is a typical British orderly queue forming. A bit like the stacking system above Heathrow Airport airspace as the wildlife wait to land on the flowers. While in the winter months the dry flower heads make a very cozy home for ladybirds in diapause.

Carlina acaulis Wildlife Benefits

Carlina acaulis Carline thistle
Carlina acaulis Thistle
In fact it is also the food source for the unattractive larvae of the Metzneria aestivella moth. The larvae look like maggots but I live too far north to have this moth visit my garden.
Carlina acaulis thistle garden worthy native flowers
Carlina acaulis Thistle

Carlina acaulis – The Weather Clock

Each stem has only one flower but there’s something really special about each flower – they can predict the rain!  When the plant senses that rain is on the way it closes its petals in order to protect its pollen. As a result it’s aptly  nicknamed  ‘The Weather Clock’.
Carline thistle flowers
The Carlina acaulis Thistle weather clock – rain is forecast!

Carlina acaulis Autumn and Winter Interest

winter interest seedheads from Carlina acaulis
Carlina acaulis winter interest seed heads
I leave the flower heads to turn to seed each year but so far I’ve never had any seedlings germinate around the parent plant. The seed heads look good during the winter months and in early spring I cut the dead stems down before the new spiky leaves appear. It is pest and disease free. Furthermore it never needs staked and is just perfect to be classed as a garden worthy native. Moreover mine has been happily growing in the garden for nearly 12 years.


Follow Rosie Nixon:

Photography Tutor and Gardener

Rosie is a garden photographer, writer and nature lover. She enjoys soaking up nature and is easily distracted from doing the weeding by anything that flutters, flies, buzzes, creeps or crawls! She enjoys sharing the beauty of creation through her photography. Rosie has been featured on TV on BBC2's The Beechgrove Garden and she uses the outdoors as her natural light studio. Her work can be seen at one of Scotland's only photography galleries - Close Gallery, 4b Howe Street, Edinburgh. She also writes and shares her nature images on

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24 Responses

  1. Edith Hope

    Dear Rosie, I have seen the Carlina growing and it has demon-like spines, but is a rather beautiful plant. I did not know about its weather predicting qualities but that is a most intriguing attribute.

    The link that you give is most welcome since this is a simple and effective way to track down native plants.

  2. Carol

    Rosie, This is such a lovely post! I love the story of your unusual plant and flower. How clever of it to know to close up before rain. Plant intelligence never ceases to amaze me. Thank you for the introduction to a new plant. Great photos! Love the bees… the larger one is one I never see. ;>)

  3. Gail

    Rosie, I am glad you joined WW and shared this really fascinating UK native~It's exactly the kind of plant to appeal to a wildflower enthusiast. The bees around here would appreciate a plant that protects its pollen~gail

  4. Curbstone Valley Farm

    I don't think I've seen Carlina before. It's a rather formidable looking plant with all those spines, but the bees certainly seem to love it! The blooms remind me of sunflowers, but the leaves look more like thistles or artichokes!

  5. Floridagirl

    That is a cool plant, predicting rain and all! Love it! Wish we had a Florida database like that. I've snatched a few "natives" from my son's property, things that caught my eye, really having no clue how they will perform long-term in a garden environment.

  6. Rose

    What a fascinating plant, Rosie; I'd love to have something like this that could predict the rain. I can just imagine the bees hovering above waiting for clearance to land:)

  7. Caroline Gill

    A lovely balance, Rosie, of photos and text. I have come across this plant before, but next time, I shall know what to look for!

  8. Patty

    The leaves on that plant scare me. Apart from that it has many excellent garden qualities. Interesting post.

  9. One

    Hi Rosie, Learn something new. Thanks for sharing on this unusual plant. As usual, your photos are terrific.

  10. kanak7

    Fascinating post, Rosie. Predicting the weather and attracting the wildlife throughout summer, it's worth having one in the garden. And to think that you have nurseries where only plants that are beneficial to wildlife are sold…! We're way behind:( As usual your photos are stunning!

  11. Dee/reddirtramblings

    Sounds very garden worthy to me. Thanks for showing us all, and for coming by to visit my blog. I so appreciate it. Native plants are indeed important in so many ways.~~Dee

  12. Melanie

    What a beautiful plant Rosie. I wonder if it is hardy over here in zone3? I suppose I should do some research 🙂

  13. debsgarden

    That is a very interesting plant! I like that it can predict the weather. And obviously, bees love it. Great photos!

  14. camissonia

    Amazing photos, Rosie – especially the one with the two bees. You've got such a great eye for those serendipitous shots of nature.

  15. Lucy

    So frustrating – at present only the top photo will show and that is simply making me very jealous of you and your camera. I'll have to come back later to see the photos and know what you are talking about in the text. I'm nervous there might be one with maggots in but I'll be brave and return none the less.


  16. Andrea

    Rosie, this is a beautiful post! How i wish we also have a very good database of wildflowers and wildplants here in the country. It is mostly difficult to know which are the endemics in the country, as many of our plants are shared by those in the ASEAN region. I of course, love your photos esp the details of those two bees.

  17. Mircea Puiu

    Not to mention the long, long list of its medical benefits. The root extract makes most of that list.