Willie Nelson’s Birthday Thistle

When I found this so-called horrid thistle (Cirsium horridulum) in a pasture down the road, only three disc florets had begun to emerge. It looked so much like a birthday cake with candles that I decided to save the photo for just the right occasion.

Yesterday, that occasion arrived; it was Willie Nelson’s birthday. But we’re not late to the party, since Willie claims today as his birthday, too. Despite being born on April 29 — 88 years ago, now — the Abbott, Texas county courthouse didn’t record his just-before-midnight birth until the next morning, making April 30 his second birthday. At least that’s Willie’s story, and he’s sticking to it.

This thistle is the perfect birthday flower for a character like Willie. It’s a Texas native, prickly around the edges, but with a pink or yellow flower as soft and sweet as his heart. The bees may seem to be overindulging in its pollen from time to time, but they know how to party: just like Willie and Waylon and the boys.

Everyone changes over time, and Willie’s no exception. The ‘Outlaw’ country sound of the ’70s and ’80s may have become the more reflective tunes of today, but it’s still Willie singing, and there’s nothing horrid about that.


Comments always are welcome.


56 thoughts on “Willie Nelson’s Birthday Thistle

  1. With the common thistle in Austin, Cirsium texanum, I’ve also come across opening buds with one or a few nascent disk floret poking out way ahead of all the rest. I wonder if that’s a trait in the genus as a whole. I may have imagined the advance guard as long skinny fingers; it took you to turn them into candles on Willie Nelson’s birthday. When I lived in Honduras, which of course speaks Spanish, I was surprised to find Nelson sometimes used as a first name for a boy.

    1. Here’s another Nelson tidbit; while Nelson Mandela was imprisoned, one of his favorites songs was Kinky Friedman’s “Ride ‘Em, Jewboy.” The whole story’s here, in the first part of the video.

      I suspect I know why I saw the florets as birthday candles. The only photo I have of me with both paternal grandparents is at our dining table, on my third birthday. There’s a cake, and three candles. When I saw these three florets, that’s what came to mind.

  2. Willie Nelson’s birthday! How’s that. I did miss the occasion yesterday, but – according to your story – I’m still good today. So: Happy Birthday, Willie!
    “This thistle is the perfect birthday flower for a character like Willie. It’s a Texas native, prickly around the edges, but with a pink or yellow flower as soft and sweet as his heart.” – Now that’s a perfect description of Willie!

    1. I’m more than willing to grant Willie a couple of days, especially since I think we all should have birthday seasons, like the Christmas and Easter seasons. I thought the flower was perfect, too. He’s such a character — I still remember when he cut his braids in 2010. How many people have their haircuts part of our collective memory?

    1. Isn’t that a great line? Billy Joe Shaver wrote the song; he got a start at the Old Quarter Club in Houston, along with Townes Van Zandt. I’m sure you know they’re both gone, as is the Old Quarter Club. But, the tradition endures at the Old Quarter Acoustic Cafe in Galveston. They made it through the pandemic with financial contributions from music lovers — that’s something to celebrate, too. Here’s Billy Joe’s version of his song.

  3. I like your comparison of Willie and the thistle: prickly on the outside, sweet on the inside. Willie at 88–just amazing. I agree with automatic gardener: flowers and Willie!

    1. So many of that crew are gone now, but Willie? I hope he makes a hundred, or stays relatively healthy until the day his end comes. He’s had quite a run!

    1. It’s hard to believe, but he has concerts scheduled for this fall. His voice isn’t what it was, but it would be worth going just for one last evening of his music live.

  4. Even in little Adelaide, the local radio station remembered his birthday, and played one of his songs. While I’m not a great follower of country and western music, there’s some I make the exception of, and Willy is one of them.
    Prickles always of interest, we have much in common too.

    1. Well! Which is your favorite station? I’m listening to Cruise 1323 right now, and enjoying it. It’s such fun to think of Willie being remembered there, and rather amazing that it’s so easy to tune into Adelaide radio. It’s a long way from the nights when we used to hope the atmosphere would be right for us to pick up Wolfman Jack from Ciudad Acuña, across the border from Del Rio. What a trip we’ve all been on. Today’s kids don’t have a clue.

    1. Isn’t it great how everyone sees something different? I love these thistles. The leaves at the base can be as much as two feet across, and they can have multiple blooms. The insects love them, but you’d best not get too close; they can do considerable damage to human flesh.

  5. I did not know there was an county named Abbott or that that was where Willie was born April 29/30. it’s my birthday too. well, just the 30th part, and I may not share his name but I do share the county’s name. and people may not think I’m prickly around the edges but sometimes I can be hard to take. surprising such an ugly plant produces such a sweet flower.

    1. Ah — that was a little ambiguous. The town is Abbott, but it’s in Hill County, just north of Waco. It’s been there since the 1800s, but it’s small. There’s a little article about the town here. I loved this paragraph:

      “It is against the law in Texas to mention Abbott without declaring that Willie Nelson is from Abbott. Old-timers still remember Willie carrying his guitar to school and one person we talked to reported that he thought that Willie’s sister played guitar better than he did.”

    1. He’s one of my favorites. I don’t remember knowing about him until I got to Texas in the ’70s, and made pilgrimage to Luckenbach. Outlaw Country was developing, and the musicians who were part of it still are among my favorites: Willie, Waylon Jennings, Jerry Jeff Walker, Guy Clark, Billy Joe Shaver, Townes Van Zandt. Well, and Gary P. Nunn, although he wasn’t really ‘outlaw.’ Their music still makes a great playlist for road trips.

    1. I have a feeling I know how he’ll be celebrating: just living life the same way he lives every day. He might throw in a cake, though, along with another favorite substance or two.

  6. Awesome capture, Linda — and good for you, saving it until the perfect time! Happy B-day to Willie — maybe everybody needs two days to celebrate birth properly. After all, it’s pretty miraculous, when you consider the odds!

    1. It’s so funny. Sometimes I know what how a photo ‘needs’ to be used. It’s just a matter of waiting for the perfect time to reveal itself. This time, it was meant for Willie, and once I made the association it seemed perfect. As for Willie himself, eighty-eight years is a good run; we should do as well!

      1. As long as we have mental and physical health, yes. It’s when everything starts breaking down that long life isn’t much of a blessing anymore.

  7. Love Willie Nelson! Thanks for this delightful bit of Nelson trivia. That thistle does look like it’s got three candles in the center.

    1. There’s always a story behind the story. I found one article about Nelson’s home town that said he carried a guitar to school; there’s nothing better than that. The thistle’s really pretty, but it’s really prickly, too. It deserves its name.

      1. A childhood memory of mine as well. Ideally mean never wins which is a good, if a bit misleading, lesson in our youth. The follow up lesson is if mean does win that’s only if you let it.

  8. So this is a native thistle? We have a native thistle in this region, C. discolor. Tried to grow it from seed without success. What kind of gardener TRIES to grow thistle and fails? As for Willie Nelson, he’s ok, but I prefer Jerry Jeff Walker.

    1. It is native. In my area, it’s almost always pink, but the farther down the coast you go, it’s more commonly yellow. It seems to like soil with some sand in it, unlike your C. discolor, which the Illinois wildflower site says prefers clay/loam. I did laugh at your failed attempt to get it to ‘take.’ I wonder if your soil’s too rich for it?

      Jerry Jeff’s a favorite, too. There’s a video of him and Gary P. Nunn performing “London Homesick Blues” that’s a classic. That’s close to my favorite Texas song.

    1. I just learned that his birthplace, Abbott, is in your neighborhood: at least, in Texas terms. It’s in Hill County, north of Waco. Through all of these years, and despite some rocky times, he’s still ‘ours.’ I’m not sure there’s a Texan who doesn’t appreciate him, and his music. I hope he keeps having double birthdays for years.

    1. Not only do the bees, flies, and beetles love the pollen, there are spiders who hide inside the flowers to nab the bees, flies, and beetles who come to feed. Crab spiders seem especially fond of hiding in the fluff after the flowers have started going to seed. I’ve been startled by them more than once.

  9. Willie has been fun to watch as he’s migrated through his early country, then outlaw, and on to his more mellow, unique crossover style of today. His long life is a testament to the power of genetics and finding joy in what you’re doing – maybe there is something to having a 2-day birthday.

    1. Or, as I’ve heard it suggested, all that smoke may have preserved him like a good hunk of brisket! Whatever the case (and I think genetics surely has played a role) it’s been fun to have him with us for so many decades. I am glad that he decided to regrow his braids; maybe he started worrying about the Samson effect.

    1. These thistles are so pretty. When they first appear, they’re only leaves flat against the ground, and an inattentive person (who? me?) might sit on one — that’s an experience to avoid! But the flowers are lovely, and feed a lot of pollinators. I was happy to find one just beginning to bloom in such an interesting way.

    1. We have so many native thistles, but the blooms on most of them are smaller, and lavender-to-pink. This is unusual, and it was great fun to catch this one in the process of opening. They can become quite large, with several blooms on each plant; the pollinators love them.

  10. What a great shot with the pollen-covered bee. I’ve never seen such a massive pollen load like that before.

    1. We have several flowers that large bees and flower beetles enjoy, and they often show up carrying such loads of pollen. Here’s one of our flower beetles on a white prickly poppy. They’re certainly efficient pollinators!

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