Cirsium vulgare

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Cirsium vulgare
Cirsium vulgare carriere-fossoy 02 23062008 02.jpg
Plant in flower, Fossoy, Aisne, France
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
(unranked): Angiosperms
(unranked): Eudicots
(unranked): Asterids
Order: Asterales
Family: Asteraceae
Subfamily: Carduoideae
Tribe: Cynareae
Genus: Cirsium
Species: C. vulgare
Binomial name
Cirsium vulgare
(Savi) Ten.

Cirsium vulgare (spear thistle, bull thistle, or common thistle) is a species of the daisy genus Cirsium, native throughout most of Europe (north to 66°N, locally 68°N), Western Asia (east to the Yenisei Valley), and northwestern Africa (Atlas Mountains).[2][3][4][5][6] It is also naturalised in North America, Africa, and Australia and is an invasive weed in some areas.[7][8][9] It is the national flower of Scotland.



It is a tall biennial or short-lived monocarpic thistle, forming a rosette of leaves and a taproot up to 70 cm long in the first year, and a flowering stem 1–1.5 m tall in the second (rarely third or fourth) year. The stem is winged, with numerous longitudinal spine-tipped wings along its full length. The leaves are stoutly spined, grey-green, deeply lobed; the basal leaves up to 15–25 cm long, with smaller leaves on the upper part of the flower stem; the leaf lobes are spear-shaped (from which the English name derives). The inflorescence is 2.5–5 cm diameter, pink-purple, with all the florets of similar form (no division into disc and ray florets). The seeds are 5 mm long, with a downy pappus, which assists in wind dispersal. As in other species of Cirsium (but unlike species in the related genus Carduus), the pappus hairs are feathery with fine side hairs.[2][10][11]


C. vulgare being pollinated by a carpenter bee in Pennsylvania, where it is naturalised and considered a noxious weed

Spear thistle is often a ruderal species, colonising bare disturbed ground, but also persists well on heavily grazed land as it is unpalatable to most grazing animals.[11] Nitrogen-rich soils help increase its proliferation.[12] The flowers are a rich nectar source used by numerous pollinating insects, including honey bees, wool-carder bees, and many butterflies.[13] The seeds are eaten by goldfinches, linnets and greenfinches.[14] The seeds are dispersed by wind, mud, water, and possibly also by ants; they do not show significant long-term dormancy, most germinating soon after dispersal and only a few lasting up to four years in the soil seed bank.[15] Seed is also often spread by human activity such as hay bales.[11]

Cirsium vulgare as a weed[edit]

C. vulgare, growing on the bank of the Murrumbidgee River in Wagga Wagga, Australia
Cirsium vulgare - Keila1.jpg

Spear thistle is designated an "injurious weed" under the UK Weeds Act 1959,[16] and a noxious weed in Australia[15][17][18] and in nine US states.[19] Spread is only by seed, not by root fragments as in the related creeping thistle C. arvense. It is best cleared from land by hoeing and deep cutting of the taproot before seeds mature; regular cultivation also prevents its establishment.[11]

Other names[edit]

Other English names include bull thistle,[11][20] Scots, Scottish, or Scotch thistle, and common thistle.[20]


The stems can be peeled and then steamed or boiled. The tap roots can be eaten raw or cooked, but are only palatable on young thistles that have not flowered yet.[21]


  1. ^ The Plant List, Cirsium vulgare (Savi) Ten.
  2. ^ a b Interactive Flora of NW Europe: Cirsium vulgare
  3. ^ Flora Europaea: Cirsium vulgare
  4. ^ Den Virtuella Floran: Cirsium vulgare (in Swedish, with maps)
  5. ^ Altervista Flora Italiana, Cardo asinino, Cirsium vulgare (Savi) Ten.
  6. ^ Flora of China, 翼蓟 yi ji, Cirsium vulgare (Savi) Tenore
  7. ^ Flora of North America, Bull or common or spear thistle, gros chardon, chardon vulgaire ou lancéolé, piqueux, Cirsium vulgare (Savi) Tenore
  8. ^ Atlas of Living Australia, Cirsium vulgare (Savi) Ten., Black Thistle
  9. ^ Conservatoire et Jardin botaniques & South African National Biodiversity Institute, African Plant Database, Cirsium vulgare (Savi) Ten.
  10. ^ Blamey, M. & Grey-Wilson, C. (1989). Flora of Britain and Northern Europe. ISBN 0-340-40170-2
  11. ^ a b c d e Bond, W., Davies, G., & Turner, R. J. (2007). The biology and non-chemical control Spear Thistle (Cirsium vulgare). 6pp. HDRA the organic organisation. Fulltext
  12. ^ "Bull thistle". Colorado Weed Management Association. Retrieved 27 September 2015. 
  13. ^ "Cirsium vulgare (Savi) Ten.". Department of Environment and Conservation. Government of Western Australia. Retrieved 7 July 2011. 
  14. ^ "Spear thistle - Cirsium vulgare". Natural England. The Plant Press. Retrieved 7 July 2011. 
  15. ^ a b "Spear thistle". Weed Australia. Australian Weeds Committee National Initiative. Retrieved 7 July 2011. 
  16. ^ Defra, UK - Farming - Wildlife and plants Ragwort and injurious weeds
  17. ^ "Spear Thistle". Department of Primary Industries. Victorian Government. Retrieved 7 July 2011. 
  18. ^ "Declared Plant Policy" (PDF). Primary Industries and Resources SA. Government of South Australia. Retrieved 7 July 2011. 
  19. ^ "USDA PLANTS Profile for Cirsium vulgare". USDA Plant Database. USDA. Retrieved 2008-07-15. 
  20. ^ a b United States Department of Agriculture: Taxonomy for Plants
  21. ^ "Cirsium". Survival and Self Sufficiency. Retrieved 9 September 2011.