Family: Ranunculaceae (Buttercup)
Habitat and Distribution: Open woods, thickets, fields.
Tolerates a variety of soils, moisture gradients, and light conditions. Common
throughout Eastern North America, from South Carolina to Arkansas, and New
Brunswick to Alberta.
Description: Thimbleweed is a perennial plant, one to three
feet tall, with a fine-textured root system and small leaves. When young, the
leaves resemble culinary parsley. Early in the year, the mature thimbleweed
produces three-parted, finely toothed 3-inch basal leaves.
earliest sign of the flowers begins in late spring with the development of a
hairy, erect stalk topped with a whorl of three leaves. From the center of this
whorl, one to three flowering stalks emerge, each topped with a single flower.
Thimbleweed flowers are white to greenish white, five-petaled, and about
½ to ¾ inch wide.
petals begin to fade and drop, the center of each flower enlarges to form the
plants namesake thimble. One of the most interesting features
of the plant, the thimble contains the plants developing seed and is
¾ to 1 inch long, about the size of a pinky finger. In late
fall when the seed is ripe, the thimble breaks apart, releasing the cottony
fluff bound inside. The round, flat, 1/8-inch seeds embedded in the fluff take
flight in the wind, giving this common plant a wide dispersal.
Thimbleweed can be distinguished from its close relative,
long-fruited anemone, Anemone cylindrica, by its shorter thimble, less
deeply cut leaves, and earlier seeding time.
Observations: In late fall and winter, thimbleweed is a joy to
see. The cottony tufts are easy to spot amidst the gray and brown of the winter
fluff, with a texture like fine wool, feels good in the hand and soft against
the cheek. Although I was unable to find any references to utilitarian or
medicinal uses, I imagine that thimbleweed fluff has been used by resourceful
humans in the past. The fluff is soft, absorbent and resistant to matting. I
have a dream of someday growing a field of thimbleweed, which I could harvest
annually, to make clothing or use as stuffing for my pillow. But for now, I am
satisfied with picking an occasional tuft to play with on an autumn walk
through the woods.
home landscape, thimbleweed is an excellent accent to natural prairie and
woodland gardens. Interspersed with other wildflowers or in small group
plantings, clumps of lower leaves can offer a fine texture in the spring. White
flowers in the summer add a subtle beauty to your flower beds and natural
Vaclavek is co-owner of the Native Plant
Nursery in Ann Arbor, as well as Conservation Crew Leader at
Article reprinted from the Fall 1998 issue of the Ann Arbor Wild
Copyright © 1998 Wild OnesNatural Landscapers,
photos of thimbleweed, see the following web sites: