Say "thistle" and the automatic response is to think "aggressive, obnoxious weed" and "How fast can I get rid of it?" Wavy leaf thistle (Cirsium undulatum), though, is the reasonable cousin in a family of assertive rapscallions. With its gray-green foliage, short height, and less heavily armed leaves and stems, it's definitely a kinder, gentler thistle. It's also not as likely to take over the landscape as many of its relatives are, a distinct advantage when thinking about including it in a garden or in a restoring prairie.
Luckily, the basal rosettes of wavy leaf thistle are not easy to confuse with other thistles. The gray green color and wavy leaf edges are a straightforward "tell", so the plant is easy to identify, even in very early spring.
So have I put any wavy leaf thistles into my flower beds? No, actually I haven't. In fact, I didn't even think of doing it until I started writing this paragraph! But now I'm thinking that I ought to give them a try. The bloom color would echo the lavender of wild bergamot (Monarda fistulosa) nicely, while the leaves would both give a different form in the garden mix and, at the same time, echo the color of the large, gray-green leaves of the giant coneflower (Rudbeckia maxima). When I do try them, I'll let you know how it works out. After all, I wouldn't try this with just any old thistle!