Bull Thistle - Spear Thistle
Cirsium vulgare
Asteraceae (Composite Sunflower) Family


Bull Thistle is an upright, branched annual or biennial herb. Its preferred habitat is roadsides, brackish marsh flats, open meadows and the margin of thin woods. The main stalk of the plant has thick wings, which are also armed with long stiff spines. Generally the plant is easily recognized for its height of 4 to 6 feet and its wide-spreading branches. Distribution is throughout the Escambia region.

The leaves are ribbon-like; up to 24 inches long and 12 inches wide. The leaf margin and tip is armed with sharp yellow spines. The upper and lower leaf surface is covered with a thick mat of cotton-like or woolly hairs, that give the foliage a gray-green appearance.

The flowers are in globe-shaped heads and borne in groups of 2 to 3 at each branch tip. The heads are 2 or more inches in diameter with long stiff, needle-like bracts at the base. Color ranges from dark pink to pale lavender.

Fruit is a smooth, slender and plumed achene.

The plant is sometimes sold as an ornamental. Its extracts have reportedly been used to treat cancers and ulcers and to diminish discharges of mucous membranes. The flower receptacle was eaten in earlier times like an artichoke, and the cottony hairs on the stem were collected to stuff pillows. Oil from the seeds was used for burning and cooking.

This pest has been a long-time problem on western rangeland. Infestations of the plant reduces forage production and virtually prohibit livestock from using the land. Dense stands of the spiny plant constitute a barrier to livestock movement, almost totally excluding animals from gracing and having access to standing water. For that reason alone some western states have instituted programs to irridicate it from the landscape.

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