Growing teasels

Posted: Friday 23 August 2013
by Kate Bradbury

...if a single plant can be a home for wildlife, then the fuller’s teasel, Dipsacus fullonum, is a high-rise tower block.

The RSPB Giving Nature a Home campaign encourages gardeners to find space for wildlife, no matter how small their garden. Even the planting of a single species can bring more ‘nature’ to your plot – but if a single plant can be a home for wildlife, then the fuller’s teasel, Dipsacus fullonum, is a high-rise tower block. I raised some from seed four years ago, and have since allowed a few to self-seed each year, so plants crop up in places I would never have thought to plant them. Two are flowering in my garden now, providing food, shelter and a hunting ground for a myriad of creatures.

The fuller’s teasel (or simply: teasel) is named after its former use in the textile industry. The seedheads were used as a natural comb to clean, align and ’raise the nap’ of a number of fabrics, particularly wool. They’re more likely to be used in dried flower arrangements now, or sprayed silver and hung from Christmas trees.

Forget their value to us humans. Right now the leaves and stems of my flowering teasels are crawling with black, green, yellow and red aphids. Ants farm them for their honeydew, while the larvae of ladybirds, hoverflies and lacewings make a meal of them. At the top of the plant, bumblebees and butterflies compete for nectar from the flowers. These plants are busy.

Despite its height, teasel is a great choice for small gardens. Biennial, the young plant forms a small rosette in the first year, taking up very little space. In the second year it grows upwards – tall and thin – with plenty of room to grow plants around it.

It’s not just when in flower that the fuller’s teasel provides a home for wildlife. While weeding the other day I found a small frog sheltering under a rosette, it’s leaves providing a bit of shade from the sun. Those in flower will soon go to seed, providing protein-rich food for goldfinches and a home for tortrix moth caterpillars, which somehow find their way inside the seedheads to overwinter.

Conversely, on top of being a fantastic home for wildlife, the fuller’s teasel is also thought to be partially carnivorous. A cup-like formation is formed where each leaf meets the stem, collecting rainwater. Insects are often caught and killed in these vessels, and studies have shown that the plants with the most dead insects produce the most flowerheads.

So that’s the fuller’s teasel: a towering spire of life in the garden. If you have a patch growing near you, why not help yourself to a seedhead and scatter its contents in your garden. You’ll never be without teasels and you’ll never be without wildlife. I can’t recommend it enough.

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Talkback: Growing teasels
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oldchippy 23/08/2013 at 22:39

I found a broken off seed head over the Woodland Trust field when walking the dogs some years ago and scattered the seed on the garden now they grow where they like.I love the way the flowers come out like halos .

fidgetbones 23/08/2013 at 22:43

The stems are hollow .I have cut some into sections for a bee hotel.  The rest I leave the seedheads for the birds during the winter. The bees have finished with the flowers.

jatnikapyar 25/08/2013 at 10:06

Yes Fidget, and it is a very welcome added pleasure when the Gold Finches arrive en mass to do acrobatics on the bare plant as they spend quite a while picking the seeds. Smile inducing I feel, on a bleak winters day

fidgetbones 25/08/2013 at 11:15

Goldfinches like lavender seeds too, if you don't cut them back until spring.

jatnikapyar 25/08/2013 at 12:51

I will try to leave some lavender this year Fidget, I usually use them to deter moths in wardrobes and book cases.

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