I was momentarily frightened by the discovery that teasels were monocarpic perennials. I was only trying to find out why nearly all the teasels I’ve been seeing lately had white blossoms when I ran across this singular fact. It was a simple question to address: “where have all the purple teasels gone?” That is all I needed to answer. But, instead I was faced with a frightening set of words I had not encountered before – or if I had, they were quickly forgotten.
The answer to the purple vs. white flower thing was easily answered. Quite honestly, before this year I had always assumed that the two are color varieties of the same plant. I was wrong (for at least the third time in my life). There are two species of teasel in our neck of the woods. Both are tall spikey-topped plants and both frequent waste spaces along roadsides and old pastureland. There are distinct differences in leaf structure as well, but the flower color is the most immediately visible difference between the two. The purple flowered teasels are called Common Teasels (Dipascus fullonum) and the white flowered ones are called Cut-leaf Teasels (Dipsacus laciniatus).
I began noticing that all of the teasels this season appeared to be of the white variety and, frankly, the observation bugged me. Although I’d seen white ones before, I was more used to those of the purple hued persuasion. At any rate there was always a mixture. Craning my neck at every passing clump this year, I consistently spotted white ones. When I finally came upon a purple flowered example, the one I now know as the Common Teasel, I treated it like a rock star (which is a ridiculous thing, I realize). In short, I do believe that the Cut-leaved Teasels really hit their stride this year and made extreme advances into Lower Michigan.
Now, back to that term “monocarpic perennial.” It sounds illegal or deviant in some way. I mean, if you labeled a person as a known monocarpic perennial you would cause some eyebrows to raise. But, as it is, the term is strictly botanical and simply refers to growth habit and not religious or fish-eating tendencies. Because individual Teasel plants only flower once then die, they might justly be called biennials (one year of growth, one year of flowering). Because they exist for years as ground-hugging clusters of leaves called basal rosettes, they act like perennials. But, perennials bloom every year as well. So, teasel time is framed within this specific term – also applied to century plants and the like – meaning something like “one seed producing year and that’s it.”
As it relates to the main question, however, this monocarpic discussion is not all that important. Teasels come in white and purple. That is the answer.