Cirsium occidentale, Cobweb Thistle
Showy silver-leaved thistle with large crimson webbed flowers. Grows 2-4' tall, likes full sun. Found in many plant communities, from sandy beaches to hillsides. It blooms Apr-June. Biennial, it grows the first year and blooms the second. The seed, somewhat painful to gather, is worth it. Grow first in 4" pots. Protect the seedlings from birds when young.
Native thistles are varied, beautiful and showy, and unlike the many weedy thistles growing in California, they are not invasive. When they turn up here and there throughout the garden, they are a thrilling sight. We were so happy when one plant bloomed magnificently right in the doorway leading in to the Larner Seeds Garden Shop that we left it in place. The cries of pain from customers were minor compared to the splendors of the rich crimson flowers contrasting with the silver foliage.
This plant in bud was made famous by a photo in Shelter Publications' book Symmetry, by Lloyd Kahn.