Spear thistle

Spear thistle

Cirsium vulgare (Asteraceae)

Common Name:

Spear thistle

Scientific Name:

Cirsium vulgare (Asteraceae)

Alternative common names:

Scotch thistle; bull thistle; plume thistle (English); daggapit; speerdissel; Skotse dissel; disseldoring; karmedik; skaapdissel (Afrikaans); hlaba (Sesotho); ntsoa-ntsane (Setswana)


Spiny, herbaceous biennial which forms a large, flat rosette of leaves and a deep tap root in the first year and numerous branched stems up to 1,5m high in the second year. Stems have spiny wings. Dark green leaves with stiff hairs above and white woolly beneath. Pink to mauve thistle-like flowers surrounded by spiny bracts appear from September to April. This plant invades grassland, roadsides, vlei and dam margins and river banks in cool, high rainfall areas

Additional Information

Where does this species come from?

Europe, Asia and North Africa

What is its invasive status in South Africa?

Existing legislation: CARA 2002 - Category 1 NEMBA - Category 1b

Where in South Africa is it a problem?

Common throughout the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, Gauteng, Mpumalanga, Limpopo and North West Provinces

How does it spread?

Seed dispersal - birds eat the seeds and also collect the silky plumes for their nests. Seeds are also spread when caught up in bales of contaminated stock feed

Why is it a problem?

It causes heavy infestations that reduce the carrying capacity of the veld and can cause injury to man and animals

What does it look like?

General description: Branching, erect biennial growing up to 1,5m tall.
Leaves: Leaves are deeply lobed and hairy - there are coarse hairs on the leaf tops and woolly hairs on the underside.
Flowers: Flower heads are €˜gumdrop' shaped and spines extend all around the base of the flower heads. Flowering occurs from September to April.
Fruit/Seeds: Grey with longitudinal darker markings, smooth

Does the plant have any uses?

No, this is a problem weed

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