Bull Thistle, Boar Thistle, Common Thistle, Dodder, Spear Thistle
Cirsium vulgare var. vulgare
Synonyms of Cirsium vulgare: (7) (Updated on 5-4-21): Carduus chinensis DC., Carduus firmus Steud., Carduus spinosissimus Gerbi, Carduus vulgaris Savi, Cnicus firmus C.Presl, Cnicus misilmerensis Tineo ex Ces., Pass. & Gibelli, Epitrachys vulgaris (Savi) K.Koch
Synonyms of Cirsium vulgare var. vulgare (47) (Updated on 3-3-21): Ascalea lanceolata (L.) Hill, Carduus divaricatus Gllib., Carduus lanceatus Hill, Carduus lanceolatus L., Carduus lanceolatus var. arachnoideo-lanuginosus M.Gómez, Carduus nemoralis E.H.L.Krause, Carduus samniticus Ten., Chamaepeuce firma DC., Cirsium abyssinicum Sch.Bip. ex A.Rich., Cirsium atticum Sch.Bip. ex Nyman, Cirsium auriculatum E.G.Camus ex Belèze, Cirsium balearicum Willk., Cirsium carminans Dumort., Cirsium drijeri Rchb.f., Cirsium dubium Lojac., Cirsium godronii Sch.Bip. ex Nyman, Cirsium gracile Rostr. ex Nyman, Cirsium judicariense Porta ex Petr., Cirsium lanceolatum (L.) Scop., Cirsium lanceolatum var. album N.Coleman, Cirsium lanigerum Naegeli, Cirsium leucanicum Lojac., Cirsium linkii Nyman, Cirsium longespinosum Tod. ex Nyman, Cirsium misilmerense Ces., Pass. & Gibelli, Cirsium nemorale Rchb., Cirsium pseudolanceolatum Schur, Cirsium rosani Ten., Cirsium samniticum Steud., Cirsium sansebastianii Evers ex Petr., Cirsium silvaticum Tausch, Cirsium sylvaticum DC., Cirsium tauscheri Simonk. ex Petr., Cirsium tempskyanum Rigo ex Huter, Cirsium virens Timb.-Lagr. & Jeanb. ex Nyman, Cirsium vulgare var. album Mozaff., Cirsium vulgare f. erdneri Soó, Cirsium vulgare var. nemorale (Rchb.) Tzvelev, Cnicus hawaiensis H.Lév., Cnicus lanceolatus (L.) Willd., Cnicus leucophanus Baumg. ex Schur, Cnicus samniticus Ten., Cynara lanceata Stokes, Epitrachys lanceolata (L.) K.Koch, Epitrachys nemoralis K.Koch, Eriolepis lanceolata (L.) Cass., Lophiolepis dubia Cass., Serratula lanceolata (L.) L.
Cirsium vulgare (Savi) Ten. is the correct and accepted scientific name for this species of Thistle. It was named and described as such by Michele Tenore in Flora Napolitana in 1835. It was first named Carduus vulgaris by C. Gaetano Savi and described in Flora Pisana in 1798.
Accepted infraspecific names of Cirsium vulgare (2): Cirsium vulgare var. litorale P.D.Sell and Cirsium vulgare var. vulgare (type specimen). When a variety (variant), subspecies, or form is named, an autonym for the “type specimen” is automatically created that is the closest to the original species. That would make this plant on this page Cirsium vulgare var. vulgare. Don’t ask me how the species can have 7 synonyms and the autonym has 47…
The genus, Cirsium Mill., was named and described by Philip Miller in the 4th edition of The Gardeners Dictionary 1754.
Plants of the World Online lists 435 species in the Cirsium genus (as of 5-4-21 when I last updated this page). It is a member of the plant family Asteraceae with 1,679 genera. Those numbers could change as updates are made (and likely will).
As you can see by the above distribution map from Plants of the World Online, Cirsium vulgare is quite widespread. Areas in green are where it is a native species and purple is where it has been introduced. The map of the USDA Plants Database for the United States and Canada is the same. The map on iNaturalist shows where members have made observations. Anyone can join and it is a great website to confirm and share your observations.
THERE ARE SEVERAL LINKS AT THE BOTTOM OF THE PAGE FOR FURTHER READING AND FOR BETTER POSITIVE ID.
Cirsium vulgare isn’t a real problem here on the farm because we have kept it in check. I moved back here on the family farm in 2013 and dad said he always just dug them up and on occasion mowed them off. I have sprayed, dug, and mowed from 2013 through 2020 and there are still a few and there probably always will be. Their seed is viable in the ground and can come up for 30-50 years (depending on which website you read). My grandparents lived on this farm, then my parents, and now me. My grandpa and my dad dug, mowed, and sprayed them and now I am doing it… If you don’t, they will become quite bad… Luckily they are only growing in the front pasture and around the pond in the front pasture and a few here and there in the yard. Rarely have I seen this species anywhere else here.
Spraying and digging are both effective ways to control the Bull Thistle. If spraying is not your thing, you can dig into the root a couple of inches below the soil which will kill the plant. It is best to dig or spray even the smallest plants. The first year they will appear as a rosette and the next year they will grow taller and flower. Some plants will grow tall early while others will continue to grow throughout the summer. It is a continual work in progress. The old saying, “if you can’t beat them, join them” does not apply.
I am not going to go into a lot of detail about the descriptions of the leaves, stems, etc. because they are fairly unmistakable. In layman’s terms, their leaves are fleshy, dark green, kind of hairy, with sharp spines on the margins and leaf tips. The stems are also hairy and spiny.
I know it will sound weird, but I think Thistles are interesting plants. Well, I also like growing a lot of cactus. The plant in the above photo was growing behind one of the sheds and I left it so I could get photos of the flowers. I had been working on a friend’s farm in 2019 spraying and digging THOUSANDS of Musk Thistles (Carduus nutans) and then his Bull Thistles pretty much all summer. After that, I sprayed this plant before it flowered. There were others in the pasture which I also got rid of before flowering… I was sure I took photos of their flowers previously, but apparently not.
I have enjoyed photographing and learning about the many wildflowers growing on the farm and other areas. I have grown over 500 different plants and most have pages listed on the right side of the blog. I am not an expert, botanist, or horticulturalist. I just like growing, photographing, and writing about my experience. I rely on several websites for ID and a horticulturalist I contact if I cannot figure them out. Wildflowers can be somewhat variable from location to location, so sometimes it gets a bit confusing. If you see I have made an error, please let me know so I can correct what I have written.
I hope you found this page useful and be sure to check the links below for more information. They were written by experts and provide much more information. If you can, I would appreciate it if you would click on the “Like” below and leave a comment. It helps us bloggers stay motivated. You can also send an email to me at email@example.com. I would enjoy hearing from you.
FOR FURTHER READING:
PLANTS OF THE WORLD ONLINE (GENUS/SPECIES)
INTERNATIONAL PLANT NAMES INDEX (GENUS/SPECIES)
FLORA OF NORTH AMERICA (GENUS/SPECIES)
WORLD FLORA ONLINE (GENUS/SPECIES)
USDA PLANTS DATABASE
MSU-MIDWEST WEEDS AND WILDFLOWERS
KANSAS WILDFLOWERS AND GRASSES
PFAF (PLANTS FOR A FUTURE)
INVASIVE PLANT ATLAS
BULL THISTLE IDENTIFICATION AND CONTROL
THE FRIENDS OF THE WILDFLOWER GARDEN
NOTE: The figures may not match on these websites. It depends on when and how they make updates and when their sources make updates (and if they update their sources or even read what they say). Some websites have hundreds and even many thousands of species to keep up with. Accepted scientific names change periodically and it can be hard to keep with as well. In my opinion, Plants of the World Online by Kew is the most reliable and up-to-date plant database and they make updates on a regular basis. I make updates at least once a year and when I write new pages or add new photos but I do get behind. We are all a work in progress. 🙂