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Autumn Weeds: Milkweed, Thistle, Teasel, Burdock, Queen Anne’s Lace


Autumn Weed Study Outdoor Hour ChallengeThis week’s Outdoor Hour Challenge allows you to pick from a list of the autumn weed studies already in the archives here on the Handbook of Nature Study. Pick one of the weeds and then mark your planner to revisit this weed in all four seasons to experience its full life cycle. Make sure to read the lesson in the Handbook of Nature Study as noted below for specific weed observation suggestions.

Autumn Weeds – Handbook of Nature Study

Autumn Milkweed – Lesson 148

Autumn Thistle – Lesson 141

Autumn Teasel – Lesson 147

Autumn Burdock – Lesson 142

Autumn Queen Anne’s Lace – Lesson 128

Make sure to click the links above to read the entire Outdoor Hour Challenge with helpful links, nature study ideas, printable notebooking pages, and suggested follow-up activities.


Additional Links

Queen Anne’s Lace Autumn Study: Here is a link to one of our autumn weed studies.

Autumn Nature Journal Examples: Take a look at some of my autumn nature journal pages, including an autumn thistle page.



queen annes lace autumn



Autumn Nature Study Ebooks graphic 

If you’re a member of the Ultimate Naturalist Library, you have access to the following ebooks with notebooking pages for each of the autumn weed studies listed below.

Autumn Milkweed – More Nature Study Autumn

Autumn Thistle – More Nature Study Autumn

Autumn Teasel – Autumn Nature Study Continues

Autumn Burdock – Autumn Nature Study Continues

Autumn Queen Anne’s Lace – Autumn 2010

OHC Plan 18 to 19 Join Us

This Outdoor Hour Challenge is part of the 2018-2019 Plan here on the Handbook of Nature Study. We’ll be using the Handbook of Nature Study by Anna Botsford Comstock to discover new things about the world around us. Join us each Friday for a different nature study topic. Make sure to subscribe to this blog to receive the weekly challenge right in your email box.

Benefits by Level Updated size 500

If you want to become a member here on the Handbook of Nature Study, you can click the Join Us button for more details. Benefits include those shown above including access to ebooks, notebooking pages, archived newsletters, and new ebooks and printables published during your membership.


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Outdoor Hour Challenge – Thistles in Autumn

Outdoor Hour Challenge Thistles in Autumn @handbookofnaturestudy

Outdoor Hour Challenge
Thistles in Autumn – from the More Nature Study Autumn ebook and the Archives

This is the week to look for thistles. The landscape right now makes it easier to find some dried up thistles for you to look at closely. Make sure to be careful if you touch the thistles because the thorns are going to be sharp. I tried to remember to bring a leather glove on our thistle walks to wear if the boys wanted to touch the plant. Go on a thistle hunt this week!

You may wish to view this entry:

Thistles – Starting a Year-Long Study



Handbook-of-Nature-Study-Newsletter-Nov 2016-button-

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Prickles, Patterns, and Vines in the Garden

This week I had fun gathering lots of interesting images from the garden to share with you. I have been trying to work my way through the Summer Nature Photo Challenge and one of the topics is “something prickly”. The cactus on the left I call Hairy and he lives on my deck…I inherited him from a relative and we think he is over thirty years old. The image on the right is one I actually took at Home Depot as I browsed in the nursery. I love the patterns of the prickles on this cactus!

I have a wide variety of sunflowers this year and they each have their own unique charm…ruffles, bendy petals, variations in color and leaf size…so much to enjoy about our sunflowers.

This is the time of year that I take a morning walk with my cup of coffee, exploring for new things in the garden. As you slow to really enjoy each flower, the patterns of color, petals, and seeds make an impression. Learning to share these things with your children and watching them grow in appreciation is something we all can do and it is easy if you have a cutting flower garden. Let your children cut a single flower, bring it inside and find a vase for it, and then set it on your kitchen table for closer observation and enjoyment.

Climbing vines are a big part of my summer garden. After studying vines with the Outdoor Hour Challenge, I have learned to notice how the vines twine and which direction they twine around the stakes. Each plant is uniform in its twisting direction. I also have a passion flower vine and it doesn’t twine but it uses tendrils to grab onto the stakes.

One last image for you to see….this one is my thistle plant that is blooming and is super pokey! The birds (finches) love the seeds from this plant and I hated to pull it out but I had to. My husband does not always share my love of all things that grow in the yard. He is right that it had already spread enough seed to ensure that there will be more next year without letting the whole area get filled in with thistles. I am a reasonable person so we pulled it all up.

I encourage you all to take a look with fresh eyes at your yard or neighborhood…find some prickles, patterns, and vines to point out to your children. Let them make some oral observations and perhaps gather a pretty flower or two for you kitchen table.

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Poetry in Your Nature Journal – Autumn Trees and Weeds

“Come, little leaves,” said the wind one day,
“Come over the meadows with me, and play;
Put on your dresses of red and gold;
Summer is gone, and the days grow cold”
-from Songs of Autumn

I love Google Books…you can find so many wonderful books that are in the public domain to use in your homeschooling and nature study. I have had one ebook downloaded and on my desktop just waiting to use with our nature journals…and to share with you.

Nature in Verse by Mary Lovejoy is a whole year’s worth of poetry organized by seasons. Whether you read these aloud or use them as copy work in your nature journals, this downloadable ebook is a gem.

Another one you may like to download is Nature Study in Elementary Schools: Myths, Stories, and Poems.

Poetry is another way to use the words you find as you spend your time outdoors. Not everyone likes to take a stab at poetry but if it is your interest or you are a linguistic learner (or your child is a linguistic learner), it is fun to listen to poetry and to play with words. See last week’s challenge for more ideas on using poetry in your nature journal.

We attempted to write some poems for our nature journal but it just didn’t happen this week. We did have fun manipulating words and it was sort of a silly time for the two of us…I cherish those times with my son just as much as any poem we could have written.

Just the act of slowing down and gathering words, giving our children more words to describe their outdoor experiences, and then taking time to share word pictures is a gift they will carry with them into their adulthood.

“The habit of storing mental images can’t be overrated. It can comfort us and refresh us. Even in our busiest times, we can stop and take a mini-vacation in our own piece of nature to be refreshed and gladdened by ‘the silence and calm of things that can’t speak or feel.’…..anyone who tries hard to really see can have it, and parents can train their children to do this.”
Charlotte Mason, volume 1 page 50

Sometimes I just like to record words that come to mind and after they are written in my nature journal they end up sounding like poetry…free form style. Some people collect items for a nature table and some of us like to collect images and words to remember an experience.

This week we found some thistles during a walk with the Kona dog. They always look so pretty but I know that if I touch them they are rather dry, hard, and the thorns will give a good poke. We took some photos and then I drew some autumn thistles in my nature journal along with some words. My words record the experience of seeing some goldfinches hanging upside down to glean some seeds from the thistles. How do they do that without getting stuck by the thorns? They seemed very happy and content as they enjoyed the thistle seed meal.

So whether you actually write a poem or just play with words in your journal, I encourage you to give it a try. Start with a simple sketch and then perhaps a word or two to express your feelings about the subject. Remember that a journal is a personal expression for you and your child….no need for perfection.

“As soon as a child is old enough, he should keep his own nature notebook for his enjoyment. Every day’s walk will give something interesting to add–three squirrels playing in a tree, a blue jay flying across a field, a caterpillar crawling up a bush, a snail eating a cabbage leaf, a spider suddenly dropping from a thread to the ground, where he found ivy and how it was growing and what plants were growing with it, and how ivy manages to climb.” Charlotte Mason in Modern English, volume 1 page 54

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November Nature Study – Autumn Hiking Delights

The mountains and forest had been calling for us to come and explore the season before the winter sets in any time now. The forecast was for partly cloudy skies and perhaps a few snow flurries so we didn’t plan too long of a hike just in case we needed to move quickly to shelter. The sun actually poked through the clouds a few times and that was a welcome treat.

Beaver Work
Right near where we parked the car and started on the trail we noticed that a beaver had gnawed this tree down…can you believe how strong that beaver must be? We weren’t sure if he was going to come back for the log but we marveled at his ability to bring down a rather large tree.

Aspens in November
We hiked through the mixed conifer and deciduous forest, noting that the aspens were all bare but still very beautiful. We listened to the bird sounds and a squirrel chattering too. We saw and heard Steller’s jays, common ravens, California gulls, mallard ducks, white-headed woodpeckers, Canada geese, and an osprey. It was a great day for birds.

Taylor Creek Eagle Habitat
We stopped along the trail to view the meadow and marsh. This spot is known to be an eagle habitat so I had my eyes open wide hoping to see one this day. And…..I was not disappointed. A bald eagle flew very majestically above the meadow from the pine forest and then out over the lake. I was very excited to see this graceful bird as he flew right overhead and then disappeared. It was a moment.

In the photo above you can see how it was snowing up on the mountain peak and we even at one point had soft flakes of snow coming down on us but it didn’t last long or stick to the ground at all. It was a perfect day for a hike.

Tahoe Eagle Journal
Journal tip: It can be overwhelming when you have so many subjects to write about in your journal. It helps to focus on just one of the highlights like our encounter with the eagle and a list of birds. I don’t like to draw birds so I used a photo and then answered the three main questions: when, where, what.

Pinecone - Andy Goldsworthy Style
When I take my creative daughter with me, we always find a way to do something fun. This time we settled on making an Andy Goldworthy style art piece using natural items. There were loads of pinecones on the ground so we decided to feature those in our sculpture.

While we were busy with our sculpture, my husband added this line of pinecones leading down the stairway to our artwork. It made me smile and feel appreciative of the support of a great guy for his nature-loving wife.

Thistles in November
On the hike back we found a patch of thistles to admire. After studying them this autumn I have a new found appreciation for their features. So pretty even now.

Taylor Creek Beaver Dam
We also saw where the beaver is attempting to build a dam across the creek. The creek is flooding part of the trail right now because of the water backed up behind the dam. We had to circle around to avoid needing to wade through the creek. This is exactly where we saw the mama and two baby bear cubs earlier this fall…no signs of them now.

As always, we were rewarded for our efforts to get outdoors and do some exploring. The informal nature study opportunities were everywhere and I made some mental notes on topics we were curious about as we hiked along. Some afternoon on a cold winter day I will pull out some field guides and we will research a few of the answers to our questions. Nature study truly is a life project.

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Thistles – Starting a Year-Long Study

Bull Thistle with Insect
September 2011 Thistles – Yosemite

Our thistle study started way back at the beginning of September when we were on a family camping trip to Yosemite National Park. I had the foresight to start our study when we came across a patch of bull thistles when we were looking for milkweed. We were able to begin our study with the beautiful purple flowers along with the insects that were enjoying the blossoms.

Thistles brown heads
Thistles along our walking trail

This was to set the stage of a whole season of thistle observations, ending this last week with the study of the rather brown sad looking plants that live alongside our walking trail.

Thistle Heads dry
Dried Thistles…thinking they are actually quite lovely

We took time to see how the seeds were now visible and the goldfinches were seen every now and then perched on top, snatching seeds for a snack. The birds didn’t seem to mind that the pretty purple flowers were mostly gone and munched their seeds oblivious to on-lookers.

Thistles - brown
Bull thistles and star thistles (yellow ones)

Seed gathering wasn’t easy because they were guarded by the prickly thorns. Funny how the birds did not mind the prickles but when we would try to grasp the flower and pull the seeds, we flinched back in pain. Those thorns are sharp! We managed to get a few fluffy seeds home and then we looked at them closely.

What an amazing structure! My dear husband managed to resurrect our microscope which I thought was beyond repair and we had a close look at the seeds.

Thistles blooming purple
Thistles in various stages

We decided to keep an eye on our thistle patch to see the cycle of life in its entirety. This would make a wonderful year-long study so I will add it to the list for our winter work. I will make sure to remind you all to revisit your thistle patch. I think a Year-Long Thistle Study notebook page is in order. I will share when I finish it.

Autumn Landscape
Stopped to enjoy the view on today’s walk.

What a joy to take a nice long walk on a warm autumn afternoon…if it would only last. 🙂

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OHC More Nature Study #9 Thistles

Outdoor Hour Challenge Thistle Study @handbookofnaturestudy

“On looking at the thistle from its own standpoint, we must acknowledge it to be a beautiful and wonderful plant. It is like a knight of old encased in armor and with lance set, read for the frey.”
Handbook of Nature Study 524

Thistle 1

More Nature Study with the OHC #9

Inside Preparation Work:

  • Read in the Handbook of Nature Study pages 524-526 (Lesson 141).
  • Read and view Common Thistle Information and Canada Thistle Information. View the range maps to see which plants you have in your area.

Outdoor Hour Time:

  • Spend part of your Outdoor Hour time looking for thistles or other autumn fall flowers. The thistle is a composite flower like many other autumn blooming flowers: goldenrod, aster, yarrow, burdock, chicory, and even the dandelion. If you can’t find a thistle, choose one of the other composite flowers you have access to as part of this challenge.
  • If you can pull the thistle up by the roots, this will be the subject of your nature study once you return home. Make sure you are pulling a thistle where you have permission from the landowner. (I suggest taking gloves with you for this part of the activity.)

Follow-Up Activities:

  • If you were able to bring a thistle plant inside with you, take time to carefully observe all the parts of the plant. Use the suggestions from the lesson in the Handbook of Nature Study to guide your children in noticing the major parts of the thistle. In autumn you will probably need to focus on the dried flower head and seeds.
  • Give time to complete a nature journal, a notebook page (available in the ebook), and/or a coloring page. There are three different coloring pages available for this challenge in the ebook.
  • Watch this video on YouTube (Bull thistle) .
  • Advanced Follow-Up: Watch this video about Canada Thistle on
  • Advanced follow-up: Sketch and compare the thistle to two other seeds you find in the autumn.

More Nature Study Autumn

This challenge is part of the More Nature Study – Autumn series. All of the challenges are gathered into one ebook with notebooking pages (regular and for advanced students) and additional resources. You can gain access to this ebook by purchasing an Ultimate Naturalist membership here on the Handbook of Nature Study. See the Join Us page by clicking the link at the top of the website for more information about what comes with your Ultimate membership.

Ultimate Ebook Library @handbookofnaturestudy

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Afternoon Walk – Birds and Thistles

We took a nice long walk in the warm afternoon sunshine…sort of on a quest to see thistles and also just to enjoy the last of the predicted sunny afternoons.

Our first bird sound and flash of color came with the Red-Winged Blackbird‘s call.  The walking trail is right along a little wetland area, creek mostly but a few small ponds. These birds are year-round residents here in our world and an easy beginner’s bird to learn by their call by ear.

We had a mystery bird fly across the trail…looked like a California quail but much larger and with more orange. Yes, orange underneath. I looked it up in my field guide and guess what? A new bird for my local life list! It was a Mountain Quail!  It doesn’t get much better than that for this bird lover…a great walk and a new bird for our area. (We have seen Mountain Quail at Yosemite in the past.)

Kona Dog
Here is my walking companion…my Kona dog. She is so patient with me when I stop and take photos of plants, butterflies, and birds. She just sits and waits so nicely with that big pink tongue hanging out while I try to get just the right image.

Bull Thistle in Fall
Here is a sneak peek at our thistle study. We did find some Bull Thistle all dried up along the trail…it is so very prickly that I couldn’t pick a thistle head to bring home to study. I was able to pull a few fluffy seeds out though and that is what we will observe closely next week as part of the up-coming thistle study.

Mountain Quail
I came home and pulled up my North American Birds notebooking page set from and printed off a page for the Red-Winged Blackbird. I remembered I had done a Mountain Quail page when I was at Yosemite a few years ago so I pulled it out and updated it with this sighting. (So don’t laugh at his long skinny legs…birds are hard to draw!)

We are really enjoying the last warm days of our autumn weather, getting outside just a few minutes each day.

The notebook page shown in this entry is NOT in the set from This set is like this one: Hermit Thrush. The page shown above comes with the Getting Started with the Outdoor Hour Challenge ebook.

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Nature Study on an Ordinary Day – Autumn

Leaves in Kona's Dish

Sometimes it is nice to head out the door and see what comes your way, no assignments. My neighborhood is rather ordinary – no parks, very little sidewalk, lots of empty lots with weeds/wildflowers, and a busy street. I take my lovable Labrador for a walk every morning and in the late afternoon, sometimes with my camera and sometimes without. We head down our side street, around the corner and onto the sidewalk to walk alongside two open lots. Right now if you don’t stop to look closely you would think there wasn’t much there to be interested in. But wait! Don’t judge too soon because you might miss a few interesting things.

11 2011 Queen Anne's lace
Queen Anne’s Lace….in bloom….in November! Can you believe that? This is the latest I have ever seen with fresh blossoms in our neighborhood. I would have missed that if I did not slow down to look closely.

11 2011chicory
My neighbor has a fresh crop of chickory blooming as well and it is surprising to see it as late as this.

Sign at the storm drain
Now if my boys were younger we would take time to investigate this sign. Where does the water from our gutter go? The river is really far away and the creek is more of a trickle…is that where this water goes to? We will have to wait until the rains come again and try to figure it out. The gutter and sewer drain were put in last summer so this is something new to our neighborhood.

11 2011 Star Thistle
We have been on the look out for thistles and the lot has a whole field of star thistle. I was hoping to spot a purple thistle but no luck here in the neighborhood. We do know a spot along our walking trail that had thistles so we will need to hop over there one day this week to check it out. (Thistles will be this Friday’s Outdoor Hour Challenge.)

11 2011 Mystery flower
I love a good mystery and this flower is a mystery! There is a little patch of these growing on the hillside around the bend from the end of the sidewalk. Kona went four wheeling off the path and I stumbled onto these beauties. I really need to look them up in our field guide. See? It isn’t such an ordinary walk after all!

Heading back home I slipped the camera back into my pocket and we just enjoyed the sunshine and the time outdoors together.

Rounding the corner and into our drive, I smile at our front yard. Yes, it makes me smile every time I see it.

11 2011 Front Yard Remodel Fall
If you have been reading my blog for the last year you know we pulled up our grass in the Summer of 2010 and added drought resistant plants for a whole new look. Here is what our yard looks like today.

11 2011 Front yard sage
The star performers right now are the sage, the purple fountain grass, and the dogwood. Color! I love the feel and movement in this yard now that the grass is gone and the birds, butterflies, and bees have all moved in.

From ordinary to extraordinary in fifteen minutes! I challenge you to find something interesting on your next neighborhood walk. Comment and let me know what it is once you find it!

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More Nature Study With The Outdoor Hour Challenge – Autumn 2011 Ebook

More Nature Study Autumn Cover image

Nature Study Using the Handbook of Nature Study- Autumn 2011 Series

Completely updated in 2016!

The ten challenges included in this new ebook are written in the format of the Outdoor Hour Challenges that can be found on the blog. Each weekly challenge can be completed as you have the opportunity and you can complete as much or as little of each challenge as you have time and interest.

Each challenge has three parts: inside preparation work, outdoor time, and then a follow-up activity. Each challenge is written so you can adapt it to your own backyard or local area. Use the challenge ideas to get started with simple weekly nature study using the Handbook of Nature Study.

This ebook is written for families with children of all ages. In addition to the regular challenge, new to this ebook is the addition of suggested nature study activities and follow-up for more advanced students. I included “advanced follow-up” ideas and created “upper level” notebook pages to give each challenge a deeper study if you have children who are ready for additional learning opportunities.

Also, a new feature for Charlotte Mason style homeschoolers is the addition of suggested Charlotte Mason style exam questions to be used at the end of the term. The questions are meant to help your child recall and then share in some way his nature study experience. Since this is the first time I have included exam questions, I would love to hear your feedback after using them with your children. I am planning on using them with my high school age son.

More Nature Study Autumn Cover image
Included in the More Nature Study With The Outdoor Hour Challenge – Autumn 2011/2016 Ebook:
  • Ten challenges centered on the Handbook of Nature Study
  • Eleven notebook pages and eight coloring pages
  • Thirteen Upper Level notebook pages
  • Ten Charlotte Mason style exam questions
  • Complete instructions for each challenge included additional links and resources
  • Nature journal suggestions
  • Complete list of supplies needed
  • Coordinates with the monthly Outdoor Hour Challenge Newsletter ideas
  • 52 pages
  • Sample here: More Nature Study Autumn

Here are the topics covered in this autumn ebook along with alternate ideas for you to include if they are more appropriate to your area. 

  • Milkweed – any other autumn wildflower or weed
  • Leaf Miners – examine leaves with a hand lens
  • Pears – year long tree study
  • Cobwebs of all kinds
  • Fall Color – leaf gathering
  • Chipmunk – squirrel
  • House sparrow – any other bird
  • Leaf Close Up
  • Thistles – any other fall composite flower
  • Maple seeds – any tree that has seeds of any type

As always, please email me with any questions or comments.