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Woolly Thistle

Cirsium eriophorum

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Plant Profile

Flowering Months:
Asteraceae (Daisy)
Also in this family:
Alpine Blue Sow-thistle, Alpine Cotula, Alpine Fleabane, Alpine Saw-wort, Annual Ragweed, Annual Sunflower, Argentine Fleabane, Autumn Hawkbit, Autumn Oxeye, Beaked Hawksbeard, Beggarticks, Bilbao Fleabane, Black Knapweed, Black-eyed Susan, Blanketflower, Blue Fleabane, Blue Globe-thistle, Bristly Oxtongue, Broad-leaved Cudweed, Broad-leaved Ragwort, Brown Knapweed, Butterbur, Buttonweed, Cabbage Thistle, Canadian Fleabane, Canadian Goldenrod, Carline Thistle, Chalk Knapweed, Chamois Ragwort, Changing Michaelmas Daisy, Chicory, Chinese Mugwort, Chinese Ragwort, Coltsfoot, Common Blue Sow-thistle, Common Cat's-ear, Common Cudweed, Common Daisy, Common Dandelion, Common Fleabane, Common Goldenrod, Common Groundsel, Common Michaelmas Daisy, Common Mugwort, Common Ragwort, Common Wormwood, Coneflower, Confused Michaelmas Daisy, Corn Chamomile, Corn Marigold, Cornflower, Cotton Thistle, Cottonweed, Creeping Thistle, Daisy Bush, Dwarf Cudweed, Dwarf Thistle, Early Goldenrod, Eastern Groundsel, Eastern Leopardsbane, Elecampane, English Hawkweed, Fen Ragwort, Feverfew, Field Fleawort, Field Wormwood, Fox and Cubs, French Tarragon, Gallant Soldier, Garden Lettuce, Giant Butterbur, Glabrous-headed Hawkweed, Glandular Globe-thistle, Glaucous Michaelmas Daisy, Globe Artichoke, Globe-thistle, Goat's Beard, Golden Ragwort, Golden Samphire, Goldilocks Aster, Grass-leaved Goldenrod, Great Lettuce, Greater Burdock, Greater Knapweed, Grey-headed Hawkweed, Guernsey Fleabane, Hairless Blue Sow-thistle, Hairless Leptinella, Hairy Michaelmas Daisy, Harpur Crewe's Leopardsbane, Hawkweed Oxtongue, Heath Cudweed, Heath Groundsel, Hemp Agrimony, Highland Cudweed, Hoary Mugwort, Hoary Ragwort, Hybrid Knapweed, Intermediate Burdock, Irish Fleabane, Jersey Cudweed, Jerusalem Artichoke, Lance-leaved Hawkweed, Lavender-cotton, Leafless Hawksbeard, Least Lettuce, Leopardplant, Leopardsbane, Leptinella, Lesser Burdock, Lesser Hawkbit, Lesser Sunflower, London Bur-marigold, Magellan Ragwort, Marsh Cudweed, Marsh Hawksbeard, Marsh Ragwort, Marsh Sow-thistle, Marsh Thistle, Meadow Thistle, Melancholy Thistle, Mexican Fleabane, Milk Thistle, Mountain Everlasting, Mouse-ear Hawkweed, Musk Thistle, Narrow-leaved Cudweed, Narrow-leaved Hawkweed, Narrow-leaved Michaelmas Daisy, Narrow-leaved Ragwort, New England Hawkweed, New Zealand Holly, Nipplewort, Nodding Bur-marigold, Northern Hawksbeard, Norwegian Mugwort, Oxeye Daisy, Oxford Ragwort, Pearly Everlasting, Perennial Cornflower, Perennial Ragweed, Perennial Sow-thistle, Perennial Sunflower, Pineapple Mayweed, Plantain-leaved Leopardsbane, Ploughman's Spikenard, Plymouth Thistle, Pontic Blue Sow-thistle, Pot Marigold, Prickly Lettuce, Prickly Sow-thistle, Purple Coltsfoot, Rayed Tansy, Red Star Thistle, Red-seeded Dandelion, Red-tipped Cudweed, Robin's Plantain, Roman Chamomile, Rough Cocklebur, Rough Hawkbit, Rough Hawksbeard, Russian Lettuce, Safflower, Salsify, Saw-wort, Scented Mayweed, Scentless Mayweed, Sea Aster, Sea Mayweed, Sea Wormwood, Seaside Daisy, Shaggy Mouse-ear Hawkweed, Shaggy Soldier, Shasta Daisy, Shetland Mouse-ear Hawkweed, Shrub Ragwort, Sicilian Chamomile, Silver Ragwort, Slender Mugwort, Slender Thistle, Small Cudweed, Small Fleabane, Smooth Cat's-ear, Smooth Hawksbeard, Smooth Sow-thistle, Sneezeweed, Sneezewort, Spear Thistle, Spotted Cat's-ear, Spotted Hawkweed, Sticky Groundsel, Stinking Chamomile, Stinking Hawksbeard, Tall Fleabane, Tall Mouse-ear Hawkweed, Tansy, Thin-leaved Sunflower, Treasureflower, Trifid Bur-marigold, Tuberous Thistle, Tyneside Leopardplant, Viper's Grass, Wall Lettuce, Welsh Groundsel, Welted Thistle, White African Daisy, White Butterbur, White Buttons, Willdenow's Leopardsbane, Winter Heliotrope, Wood Burdock, Wood Ragwort, Woody Fleabane, Yarrow, Yellow Chamomile, Yellow Fox and Cubs, Yellow Oxeye, Yellow Star Thistle, Yellow Thistle, York Groundsel
Life Cycle:
Maximum Size:
150 centimetres tall
Fields, grassland, roadsides, scrub, woodland.

Purple, many petals
Reddish-purple flowers which are usually solitary. Flowerheads are large, globular and covered in spiny bracts. The flowerheads measure between 4 and 7cm across. The bracts are white and woolly.
The fruit is an achene. The seeds ripen from August to October.
A sharp-spined, biennial plant with narrowly pinnate leaves. The leaves are cottony white beneath and can measure up to 60cm (24 inches) in length. The stems are not winged.
Other Names:
Friar's Crown.
Frequency (UK):

Other Information


Cirsium eriophorum, also known as the woolly thistle, is a species of thistle that is native to Europe and Asia. It is a biennial or perennial plant that can grow up to 1.5 meters tall. The leaves are deeply lobed and covered in soft, white, woolly hair. The flower heads are purple or pink, and are surrounded by spiny, woolly bracts. It is considered a threatened species in some parts of its range due to habitat loss and overgrazing.


Woolly Thistle: A Fascinating Plant with a Fuzzy Past

Woolly thistle, also known as Cirsium eriophorum, is a fascinating plant species that is native to Europe and Asia. This plant has a distinct appearance, with its fuzzy, silver-grey leaves and large, showy flowers. It's not hard to see why woolly thistle has been loved by gardeners, botanists, and nature enthusiasts for centuries.

The History of Woolly Thistle

Woolly thistle has a long history of use, both as a food source and as a medicinal plant. In Europe, the leaves of the plant were used to make a tea that was believed to have diuretic and tonic properties. The leaves and stems were also cooked and eaten as a vegetable, and the seeds were used to make flour.

In addition to its practical uses, woolly thistle has also been valued for its ornamental appeal. The plant has been cultivated as a garden ornamental for centuries, and it is still grown in gardens today for its showy flowers and attractive foliage.

The Unique Features of Woolly Thistle

Woolly thistle is a biennial plant, which means that it takes two years to complete its lifecycle. In the first year, the plant grows a rosette of leaves close to the ground. In the second year, the plant produces a tall, flowering stem that can reach up to six feet in height.

The leaves of the plant are large and deeply lobed, with a silver-grey color and a fuzzy texture. The leaves are covered in soft, white hairs that give the plant its distinctive "woolly" appearance.

The flowers of woolly thistle are large and showy, with a bright purple color that attracts a wide variety of pollinators, including bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds. The flowers are surrounded by large, spiny bracts that protect the flowers and provide a visual barrier for animals.

Cultivating Woolly Thistle

Woolly thistle is a relatively easy plant to grow, and it is suitable for a wide range of garden conditions. The plant prefers well-drained soil and full sun, but it will tolerate partial shade. Woolly thistle is a hardy plant that can withstand cold temperatures and can even tolerate frost.

If you are interested in growing woolly thistle in your garden, it is best to sow the seeds directly in the ground in the spring. The seeds will germinate in about two weeks and will grow into a rosette of leaves in the first year. In the second year, the plant will produce its tall, flowering stem.

Woolly thistle is a fascinating and unique plant that has been valued for its practical uses, ornamental appeal, and medicinal properties for centuries. Whether you are a gardener, a botanist, or just someone who loves nature, woolly thistle is definitely a plant that is worth checking out!

More Information

In addition to its beauty and practical uses, woolly thistle is also an important plant for wildlife. The flowers of the plant provide an important source of nectar for a wide variety of insects and other pollinators. Additionally, the plant's spiny bracts provide shelter and nesting sites for small birds and insects.

It's worth noting that while woolly thistle is an attractive and desirable plant in gardens, it can also be invasive in some areas. The plant is classified as a noxious weed in some countries, and it can spread quickly and displace native plant species. Gardeners who wish to grow woolly thistle should be mindful of its potential to become invasive, and should take steps to prevent the spread of the plant into natural areas.

Despite its potential to become invasive, woolly thistle is still a valuable plant that has a lot to offer. Its beauty, versatility, and importance for wildlife make it a great addition to any garden, and its fascinating history and cultural significance make it an interesting subject for study and exploration.

In conclusion, woolly thistle is a plant that has something to offer for everyone, from gardeners and botanists to nature enthusiasts and wildlife lovers. Whether you're looking to grow a beautiful and unique plant in your garden, learn about its cultural significance, or explore its role in the ecosystem, woolly thistle is definitely worth checking out!


Woolly Thistle filmed at the following 2 places:
  • Crickley Hill, Gloucestershire: 25th June 2023
  • Barrow Wake, Gloucestershire: 25th June 2023

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Distribution Map

Reproduced by kind permission of the BSBI.

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