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Echinops, a genus that includes many plants that are individually referred to as globe thistle, is made up of more than 120 species of perennials, annuals, and biennials. The genus belongs to the daisy family Asteraceae, and its species are found in Africa, Europe, and Asia. These plants are hardy and are often considered to be highly ornate. This genus receives its common name from its globe-like flowers that grow in shades of purple and white. The leaves of these plants are spiky from the edges and woolly and greenish grey in color, while the fruits borne are cylindric achene.
The blossoms of these plants are round flower heads that grow in groups. These flower heads are on top of the ribbed stems of the plant, making the total height of the plant nearly 5 feet (1.5 m). The plants attract swarms of bees and butterflies and are usually planted behind the borders in gardens. These plants are often utilized as cut flowers, as they can last for weeks when placed in vases indoors. They are also used as dried floral arrangements, and for its ornamental uses, the species ritro was awarded the Award of Garden Merit (AGM) by the British Royal Horticultural Society.
Globe thistles should be planted in full sunlight and in well drained soil for ideal growth. In fact, the poorer the soil, the better these plants do. The globe thistle plants are re-seeders and are not considered invasive as of 2010, but the plants need to be grown with adequate spacing. These plants blossom during spring, and they associate best with cardoon, Miscanthus, and other tall late-summer plants.
Many globe thistle plants are very popular. One such popular species is Echinops sphaerocephalus, also known as arctic glow, which is much taller than other species in the genus, usually reaching up to 7 feet (2.1 m) in height. Another popular species is Echinops ritro, or the taplow blue, which has bright blue flowers and is often used as a border plant because it is 3 feet (1 m) high. Other prominent species that are referred to as globe thistles include Echinops bannaticus, Echinops exaltatus, and Echinops adenocaulos.
Although some species of globe thistle can poison livestock, the plants are of great use industrially. The popular species are used and cultivated as ornamental plants. In addition, an alkaloid called echinopsine can be obtained from their fruits, which can then be used for medicinal purposes. The seeds of these plants also have industrial use, as they contain an oil.