Cirsium vulgare (Savi) Tenore

Remark The words or terms in red (actually dark orange) in the text are defined in a glossary.

aug_19_01.gthmb can't be loaded. Cirsium vulgare, an introduced species in North America, is native to Europe, western Asia, and North Africa. It probably was introduced to eastern North America during colonial times as a contaminant in seed or ballast in the late 1800s or early 1900s. It as been classified as a noxious, restricted, or prohibited weed or weed seed in many states in the United States and in some Canadian provinces.

The plant is biennial, it can reach 2 m in height and is usually multibranched. In the first year plants form a rosette that may develop to 3 feet in diameter, with oblanceolate to elliptic leaves. It has a chromosome number (2n) of 68. It belongs to the Asteraceae family.


In Greek κιρσιον (kirsion) is the name of a Thistle that was used to heal varicose veins, and κιρσοσ (kirsos) means varicose vein, kirsion being then the (bygone) remedy of kirsos. As for Thistle it is the common vernacular of most Cirsium species (and of some Carduus species too).

In Latin, vulgaris means ordinary, common; and vulgare is an epithet frequently appearing in the names of weeds.

Common names

Some of the vernacular names of Cirsium vulgare are: Bull Thistle, Common Thistle and Spear Thistle. Some of the French vernacular names are Gros chardon, Chardon vulgaire and Chardon lancéolé.


Cirsium vulgare has also been known as:


draw_01.jpg can't be loaded. Cirsium vulgare is distinguished from other thistles by the following combination of characteristics: Cirsium vulgare is distinguished from Cirsium arvense by:


Cirsium vulgare is erect and bushy in appearance, up to 2 m high, and has many spreading branches. It exhibits variation in several morphological characteristics that have been described as subspecies by some authors.


The root system consists of several primary roots each with several smaller lateral roots. draw.jpg can't be loaded.


Flower heads


Large individuals may produce tens of thousands of wind-dispersed seeds.


Cirsium vulgare occurs in a wide variety of habitats. It is an invasive weed of disturbed sites, pastures, meadows, forest openings and roadsides. It can be common along edges of fresh and brackish marshes, and in meadows and mesic forest openings. It is not typically found on sand or on soils with high humus content and is absent from pure clay soils. It does not grow well in shade and drought.


map_na.jpg can't be loaded. Cirsium vulgare is found on every continent except Antarctica, although its distribution is confined mostly to the northern and southern temperate zones. An introduced species, it now common throughout the Pacific States, and it is the most common and widespread of pasture and rangeland thistles in western North America. The map show the USA states and Canadian provinces where the plant can be found.


Cirsium vulgare is a noxious weed that has invaded disturbed habitats across the American continent. Distasteful to livestock, it can increase in heavily grazed pastures. It is most troublesome in recently or repeatedly disturbed areas such as pastures, overgrazed rangelands, recently burned forests and forest clearcuts, and along roads, ditches, and fences. In a variety of wildland habitats it competes with and displaces native species, including forage species favored by deer and elk. In addition to outcompeting native plant species for water, nutrients, and space, the presence of Cirsium vulgare in hay decreases feeding value and lowers market price.

Native North Americans used the roots and young leaves and newly bolted stems of Cirsium species for food.


The photos of the gallery were taken either with one of the following: The title in the window shows the date when the picture was taken, i.e. jan_30_06... would mean that the photo was taken on the 30th of January, the 06 is for the 6th picture taken that day.

The month, day and picture number might be followed by a letter:

Click on the thumbnails to get larger view. The original photos are usually in TIFF format, the photos shown are generally in JPEG format, usually of dimensions one half (surface one quarter) for loading time reduction.


aug_13_01m.mthmb cannot be loaded. aug_08_06c.mthmb cannot be loaded.


aug_08_02s.mthmb cannot be loaded. The leaves were scanned at 300 dpi, and the dimensions of the resulting picture divided by 2 (area divided by 4); this allows to measure the dimensions of the leaves.

Flower heads, phyllaries

aug_08_13c.mthmb cannot be loaded. aug_19_02.mthmb cannot be loaded. aug_08_14c.mthmb cannot be loaded. aug_19_01n.mthmb cannot be loaded.
aug_08_15c.mthmb cannot be loaded. aug_19_03.mthmb cannot be loaded.


aug_27_01s.mthmb cannot be loaded. The seeds were scanned at 300 dpi, this allows to measure the dimensions of the seeds.