Photo by Melody

PlantFiles: Bull Thistle, Spear Thistle
Cirsium vulgare

Family: Asteraceae (ass-ter-AY-see-ee) (Info)
Genus: Cirsium (SIR-see-um) (Info)
Species: vulgare (vul-GAIR-ee) (Info)

Synonym:Cirsium lanceolatum
Synonym:Carduus vulgaris
Synonym:Carduus lanceolatus

10 members have or want this plant for trade.


4-6 ft. (1.2-1.8 m)

12-15 in. (30-38 cm)

USDA Zone 3a: to -39.9 C (-40 F)
USDA Zone 3b: to -37.2 C (-35 F)
USDA Zone 4a: to -34.4 C (-30 F)
USDA Zone 4b: to -31.6 C (-25 F)
USDA Zone 5a: to -28.8 C (-20 F)
USDA Zone 5b: to -26.1 C (-15 F)
USDA Zone 6a: to -23.3 C (-10 F)
USDA Zone 6b: to -20.5 C (-5 F)
USDA Zone 7a: to -17.7 C (0 F)
USDA Zone 7b: to -14.9 C (5 F)
USDA Zone 8a: to -12.2 C (10 F)
USDA Zone 8b: to -9.4 C (15 F)

Sun Exposure:
Full Sun
Sun to Partial Shade

Plant has spines or sharp edges; use extreme caution when handling

Bloom Color:

Bloom Time:
Mid Summer
Late Summer/Early Fall


Other details:
May be a noxious weed or invasive
This plant is attractive to bees, butterflies and/or birds
Drought-tolerant; suitable for xeriscaping
Average Water Needs; Water regularly; do not overwater
Self-sows freely; deadhead if you do not want volunteer seedlings next season
This plant is resistant to deer

Soil pH requirements:
6.1 to 6.5 (mildly acidic)
6.6 to 7.5 (neutral)
7.6 to 7.8 (mildly alkaline)

Patent Information:

Propagation Methods:
From seed; direct sow outdoors in fall

Seed Collecting:
N/A: plant does not set seed, flowers are sterile, or plants will not come true from seed

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Thumbnail #1 of Cirsium vulgare by Todd_Boland

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Thumbnail #3 of Cirsium vulgare by kennedyh

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Thumbnail #4 of Cirsium vulgare by kennedyh

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There are a total of 25 photos.
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5 positives
3 neutrals
6 negatives

Gardeners' Notes:

Positive hmm191 On Mar 7, 2012, hmm191 from Orange, TX wrote:

Having researched this plant in a lot of sites, it seems to be closely related to the Scottish thistle, which is a part of many heraldic coats of arms. In addition, the plant is quite handsome, though I will agree that pulling it will require a suit of armor. Still, letting it grow...the stalk has not reached the 3-4 foot level mentioned elsewhere...maybe it is because it is maturing so early.

Neutral DMersh On Sep 5, 2010, DMersh from Perth
United Kingdom (Zone 7b) wrote:

Native to Britain and Europe, naturalized in USA and elsewhere by accidental spreading of seeds. Can reach almost 6 feet but more commonly between 3-5 feet, may be smaller in very hot or dry locations.

Positive Anglavich On Jun 9, 2010, Anglavich from Howell, MI wrote:

I decided to let one grow to see how big it would get .
It got to be about 4 feet tall and had pretty purple flowers that humming birds and butterflys visited regularly.
I cut the flowers off before the seed fluff could fly.
The kids thought is was pretty cool like having a cactus in Michigan. We are letting one grow this year too, we want to see if we can get a 6 footer.

Negative RosemaryA On Aug 4, 2008, RosemaryA from Toronto, ON (Zone 5b) wrote:

Bull thistle is considered a noxious weed in Ontario; property owners are legally required to eliminate it.

Negative Malus2006 On Mar 14, 2008, Malus2006 from Coon Rapids, MN (Zone 4a) wrote:

I hate this species - they can be a major pest in lawns - they live forever because they never develop their flower stalks and die - their spines is a danger to barefeet or to pets. Every part of the plant is very sharp - the only good way to get rid of it if it is flowerstalking is to hack it to size and then use a shovel to remove the rootstock. I have only seen them reach flowering size - very tall at about 4 feet tall on roadsides but is rarer in gardens - their single year crowns are more often encounted in lawns and 100% sunny garden locations. In the north, only Canda Thistle is more weedy than this species.

Negative Joan On Apr 1, 2007, Joan from Belfield, ND (Zone 4a) wrote:

This plant is listed on the North Dakota invasive/troublesome list and this information is being distributed in a guide developed by the ND Weed Control Association and other agencies.

Plant Features
Biennial, 3 to 5 feet tall
Purple flowers, 2 inches in diameter
Blooms from July through September
Gumdrop-shaped flower heads up to 3 inches long, spines on flower heads yellow-tipped
Spines on ends of leaves and leaf lobes
Multiple branched stems with purple veins
Leaf surface has a distinct green center vein
Short fleshy taproot
First year plants short, flat rosettes

Widespread invasive usually solitary or in small patches in pastures

Interesting Facts
Petals can be chewed as gum
Spreads by seed only

Negative frostweed On Dec 14, 2006, frostweed from Josephine, Arlington, TX (Zone 8a) wrote:

Bull Thistle, Spear Thistle Cirsium vulgare is Naturalized to Texas and other States, and is considered an Invasive plant in Texas.

Positive Vasyr On Apr 6, 2006, Vasyr from Valrico, FL (Zone 9a) wrote:

Sure, this plant is quite thorny and pops up everywhere (very quickly, I might add.) However, to add another positive note, it's a drought-tolerant plant which makes it a great plant to use in very hot (and sometimes dry) places like Florida.

Furthermore, Painted Lady, American Painted Lady, and Little Metalmark butterflies all are said to use this plant as a host plant. A great addition to any butterfly garden...

Neutral raisedbedbob On Feb 4, 2006, raisedbedbob from Walkerton, VA (Zone 7a) wrote:

Yes, it's alien
yes, it's invasive
But, Goldfinches love it so at least it has some value.

Neutral RLS0812 On Oct 15, 2004, RLS0812 from Du Bois, PA wrote:

These thorns can be of some use.
Instead of throwing the whole thing away, save undeveloped flowers, and roots. Both are edible, and are quite tasty.

Positive EAJStaudt On Jul 10, 2004, EAJStaudt from Bomoseen, VT wrote:

I consider the Bull Thistle one of the most beautiful plants growing wild in my area although most other folks, particularly the farmers, consider them a total hazard. I have had no success in relocating one to my yard, but this year I may have a success.

Positive davecwik On Aug 12, 2003, davecwik from Smiths Creek, MI wrote:

ive always enjoyed this wildflower, its not only a royal plant in scottland but when it goes to seed it looks looks alot like cotton. and im glad to have it in my garden and in my feilds

Negative Laurensmom On Apr 30, 2003, Laurensmom wrote:

I hate this 'plant'. To me it's a weed. I spent all last summer digging them out of my garden. Now it has invaded my backyard. Who would call this horrendous pest a plant or would even want it in their garden?

Love this website!!!!

Negative lupinelover On Jan 25, 2003, lupinelover from Grove City, OH (Zone 6a) wrote:

This plant has been declared a noxious weed in almost every nation in the world.

If you try to hand-pull, make sure the whole taproot is removed; every bit of root left in the soil will re-sprout and grow a new crown. Make sure you wear sufficient protective clothes against this armed enemy: the thorns will penetrate even leather gloves. Multiple applications of chemical herbicides are usually required to kill this.


This plant has been said to grow in the following regions:

Fayetteville, Arkansas
Calabasas, California
Aurora, Colorado
Lamar, Colorado
Springfield, Colorado
Andover, Kansas
Valley Lee, Maryland
Eastpointe, Michigan
Pinconning, Michigan
Smiths Creek, Michigan
Minneapolis, Minnesota
Cole Camp, Missouri
Farmington, New Mexico
Belfield, North Dakota
Glouster, Ohio
Kellyville, Oklahoma
Du Bois, Pennsylvania
Crossville, Tennessee
Orange, Texas
Waxahachie, Texas
Spokane, Washington

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