Nodding thistle

Nodding thistle

Carduus nutans

Common Name:

Nodding thistle

Scientific Name:

Carduus nutans

Alternative common names:

Musk thistle, nodding plumeless thistle. 


The nodding thistle grows from sea level to an elevation of about 2 500m. It is found in neutral to acidic soils. It typically grows in meadows and grasslands, heavily grazed areas such as pastures and in disturbed soil such as roadsides and building sites. It spreads rapidly in areas subjected to frequent natural disturbances such as landslides and flooding, but does not grow well in excessively wet, dry or shady conditions.

Additional Information

Where does this species come from?

Europe, Asia and western North Africa.

What is its invasive status in South Africa?

NEMBA Category 1b.

Where in South Africa is it a problem?

Eastern Cape.

How does it spread?

The seeds are spread by birds and water.

Why is it a problem?

Musk thistle is a highly competitive weed which invades disturbed areas, pastures, forests, crop land and waste areas. It spreads rapidly and forms extensive stands, which force out desirable vegetation. It may produce allelopathic chemicals that inhibit desirable plants beyond the spread of the rosettes.

What does it look like?

Leaves: The leaves are dark green and bipinnately lobed.

Flowers: Red-purple.

Fruit/seeds: Shiny, yellowish-brown with a plume (pappus) of white hair-like bristles.

Does the plant have any uses?

It is grown as an ornamental plant in gardens and for traditional and medicinal uses. It competes strongly with other more palatable pasture species.

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