At first glance, bee thistle (Eryngium articulatum), from its common name and gross appearance, seems as though it should belong to the Asteraceae or Sunflower Family. However, on closer examination it can be seen that the flower heads are not composed of disk or ray flowers. This native perennial is a member of the Carrot Family (Apiaceae).
Bee thistle grows in wetlands, both fresh and saltwater, in Washington, Oregon, California and Idaho. Its root are often submerged. These bee thistle specimens were photographed in September at the Quarry Pond in Ash Creek Wildlife Area (Modoc County CA).
The plant is rooted from a fibrous crown. The stem is erect and sturdy. The leaf blades are elliptic and toothed with small spines or spine-like hairs along the margin. Basal bee thistle leaf petioles (stalks) are elongated. The cauline (stem) petioles are progressively shorter until at the top they are lacking. All the foliage has a bluish-white waxy coating.
Bee thistle inflorescences are rounded to egg shaped and superficially look like thistle inflorescences. Up to 17 long, spiny, toothed, pointed bracts surround each inflorescence. The flowers are lavender. Bee thistle fruits are ovoid and covered with scales that are textured with a network of small cavities and are abruptly tipped by a slender point.
Coyote thistle is another colloquial name for E articulatum.