Nodding Thistle (Carduus nutans)

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Nodding thistle is a biennial weed, reproducing by seeds. Stems are erect, mostly un-branched, up to 2.5m tall, and have spiny wings along the stem except just below the flowering head. Leaves are alternate, glabrous, and veined on the underside. Leaf margins are deeply lobed and spiny. The flowers are red to purple in color and occur at the ends of branches and axils of upper leaves. The seeds are light brown with dark stripes, glossy, and topped by a long pappus.

Key Identifiers

  • Interrupted spiny wings along stem except just below the flowering head
  • Leaves are dark green, generally with little or no pubescence and deeply lobed with small but sharp spines. The subspecies macrocephalus does have pubescent leaves.
  • Silvery leaf margins
  • Flower nods when mature

Nicole Kimmel, ARD
Location in Canada
Nodding thistle occurs in all Canadian provinces, except PEI. Alberta has sporadic populations mainly in the south.

THE BIOLOGY OF CANADIAN WEEDS. 89. Carduus nutans and Carduus acanthoides Similar species
Plumeless thistle (Carduus acanthoides)
-has smaller flowers (less than 2.5 cm broad) with flower stalks spiny-margined right to the base of the flower head. - Spiny Plumeless Thistle

Bull thistle (Cirsium vulgare)
-narrow, spine-tipped bracts. - Bull Thistle

Marsh Thistle (Cirsium palustre)
-strongly spiny-winged and are usually unbranched except the upper portion which terminates in clusters of purple flower heads University of Wisconsin, Green Bay, Invasive Plants of Wisconsin - Marsh Thistle

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For more information about the content of this document, contact Chris Neeser.
This document is maintained by Shelley Barkley.
This information published to the web on April 10, 2012.
Last Reviewed/Revised on August 21, 2018.