Have you ever wondered about the down of a thistle? Here is a photo of a Canadian Thistle plant with its down ready to fly. When I see a plant such as this, I can't help but smile. It has grown to full maturity at the end of a shelter belt in GriggsDakota despite our best efforts at weed control. The seeds from just one plant can produce thousands of new little thistles next season.
Down, in this instance refers to soft wispy white hairs that carry the thistle seed on the wind. Usually associated with the soft underbelly feathers of a duck or goose, down is also the soft hair growth on the chin of a teenage boy that precedes the bristle of manhood.
The picture above tells the story. To the lower left is a seed pod, still closed and not quite dry enough to open. The drying wind will cause the pod to open, each seed will have a globe of down that allows it to fly off to a new location. There is a thistle seed surrounded by its down ready to jump on a breath of wind atop the open seed pod. Though hard for a farmer to appreciate, it is the stuff poetry is made of.
"He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.
But I heard him exclaim, 'ere he drove out of sight,
Happy Christmas to all! And to all, a good night!"
From: "'Twas The Night Before Christmas: A visit from St. Nicholas"
by Clement C. Moore - 1822
originally published December 2009