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Cirsium Cirsium

Other Common Name(s):

Phonetic Spelling
SIR-see-um
This plant is an invasive species in North Carolina
Description

Thistles are in the Asteraceae (daisy) family and can be biennials or short-lived perennials, natives or non-natives. Its name comes from the Greek kersion which means thistle. Some have come from Asia and Europe, and others are native to North America. They all have spines. Two species, Cirsium arvense and C. vulgare are non-native and considered weedy. Thistles vary greatly in their size and the color of the flowers. Some flowers are fragrant, most are not. There are about 60 species that are native to North America.

Some thistles prefer sunny, open areas and some can tolerate some shade. It grows in all types of soils from moist wetlands to mostly dry conditions and in a wide range of pH. They have a central taproot and spread mostly by seeds (one by rhizomes). Most species produce flowers only in their second summer (and every summer thereafter, for perennial species).

Thistles are a high-value nectar plant for bees and butterflies, and songbirds eat the seeds and use the tufts of the seeds for their nests. The seeds are rich in oil, an important food source for seed-eating birds. It is the host plant for the Little Metalmark butterfly (Calephelis virginiensis), which has three to five broods from March-October, and Painted Lady Butterfly (Vanessa cardui) which have one to three flights in the east from May-October, and three to four flights in south Texas from October-April. Flowers are also attractive to hummingbirds. Members of this genus support the following specialized bees: Thistle Long-horned bee Melissodes desponsus, plus Osmia (Helicosmia) chalybea and Osmia (Helicosmia) texana.

Native thistles are a great option in a meadow garden or naturalized area when looking for native host plants for the Little Metalmark butterfly or the Painted Lady butterfly. Select with care, as some native species may spread into areas (such a lawns and flower beds) where they are not wanted. Some gardeners object to their spininess.

Quick ID Hints:

  • Very spiny leaves and bracts subtending the heads
  • heads like artichokes that bear numerous flowers.

Insects, Diseases, and Other Plant Problems: No significant problems.

 

See this plant in the following landscape:
Cultivars / Varieties:
Tags:
#hummingbird friendly#full sun tolerant#white flowers#purple flowers#pink flowers#yellow flowers#nectar plant#seedheads#specialized bees#NC native#deer resistant#spines#prickly#wind dispersed seeds#cutting garden#pollinator plant#wildflower garden#larval host plant#food source fall#bird friendly#butterfly friendly#partial shade tolerant#bee friendly#herb#weed#wildflower#wildlife friendly
 
Cultivars / Varieties:
Tags:
#hummingbird friendly#full sun tolerant#white flowers#purple flowers#pink flowers#yellow flowers#nectar plant#seedheads#specialized bees#NC native#deer resistant#spines#prickly#wind dispersed seeds#cutting garden#pollinator plant#wildflower garden#larval host plant#food source fall#bird friendly#butterfly friendly#partial shade tolerant#bee friendly#herb#weed#wildflower#wildlife friendly
  • Attributes:
    Genus:
    Cirsium
    Family:
    Asteraceae
    Life Cycle:
    Biennial
    Perennial
    Recommended Propagation Strategy:
    Seed
    Country Or Region Of Origin:
    Europe, Asia, Africa, Southern America and Northern America
    Distribution:
    From Canada to Florida, coast to coast
    Wildlife Value:
    Members of the genus Cirsium support the following specialized bees: Melissodes (Heliomelissodes) desponsus, Osmia (Helicosmia) chalybea and Osmia (Helicosmia) texana. Birds eat the seeds.
    Particularly Resistant To (Insects/Diseases/Other Problems):
    Deer don't bother them.
    Edibility:
    Has been used for food in some countries.
  • Whole Plant Traits:
    Plant Type:
    Herb
    Native Plant
    Weed
    Wildflower
    Woody Plant Leaf Characteristics:
    Deciduous
    Habit/Form:
    Erect
    Growth Rate:
    Medium
    Maintenance:
    Medium
    Texture:
    Coarse
    Appendage:
    Spines
  • Cultural Conditions:
    Light:
    Full sun (6 or more hours of direct sunlight a day)
    Partial Shade (Direct sunlight only part of the day, 2-6 hours)
    Soil Texture:
    Clay
    Loam (Silt)
    Sand
    Soil pH:
    Acid (<6.0)
    Alkaline (>8.0)
    Neutral (6.0-8.0)
    Soil Drainage:
    Good Drainage
    Occasionally Dry
    Occasionally Wet
    Available Space To Plant:
    12 inches-3 feet
    NC Region:
    Coastal
    Mountains
    Piedmont
    USDA Plant Hardiness Zone:
    2a, 2b, 3a, 3b, 4a, 4b, 5a, 5b, 6a, 6b, 7a, 7b, 8a, 8b, 9a, 9b, 10a, 10b
  • Fruit:
    Fruit Color:
    Cream/Tan
    Fruit Value To Gardener:
    Showy
    Display/Harvest Time:
    Fall
    Fruit Type:
    Achene
    Fruit Length:
    < 1 inch
    Fruit Width:
    < 1 inch
    Fruit Description:
    Seeds are produced singly in a flat, dark brown fruit about 1/10 of an inch long. Seeds produce a feathery pappus (similar to dandelion ‘seeds’) which help disperse the seeds.
  • Flowers:
    Flower Color:
    Gold/Yellow
    Pink
    Purple/Lavender
    Red/Burgundy
    White
    Flower Inflorescence:
    Head
    Flower Value To Gardener:
    Good Cut
    Flower Bloom Time:
    Fall
    Summer
    Flower Shape:
    Dome
    Flower Petals:
    Bracts
    Flower Size:
    1-3 inches
    Flower Description:
    Numerous disc florets that are divided into 5 long thread-like lobes giving it a showy hair-like appearance. Spines present in the numerous bracts below the flower.
  • Leaves:
    Woody Plant Leaf Characteristics:
    Deciduous
    Leaf Color:
    Green
    Leaf Feel:
    Prickly
    Leaf Type:
    Simple
    Leaf Arrangement:
    Alternate
    Rosulate
    Leaf Shape:
    Elliptical
    Oblanceolate
    Leaf Margin:
    Lobed
    Hairs Present:
    Yes
    Leaf Length:
    > 6 inches
    Leaf Width:
    1-3 inches
    Leaf Description:
    Most have a basal leaf arrangement and alternate stem leaves with pronounced stiff spines along the edges. Natives can be easily identified to have stiff hairs on the upper surface, but softer white hairs below.
  • Stem:
    Stem Color:
    Green
    Stem Is Aromatic:
    No
    Stem Surface:
    Hairy (pubescent)
    Stem Description:
    Green, occasionally finely grooved longitudinally.
  • Landscape:
    Landscape Location:
    Meadow
    Naturalized Area
    Landscape Theme:
    Native Garden
    Pollinator Garden
    Attracts:
    Butterflies
    Hummingbirds
    Moths
    Pollinators
    Songbirds
    Specialized Bees
    Problems:
    Invasive Species
    Spines/Thorns
    Weedy