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Marsh Thistle

Cirsium palustre

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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, 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, Trifid Bur-marigold, Tuberous Thistle, Tyneside Leopardplant, Viper's Grass, Wall Lettuce, Welsh Groundsel, Welted Thistle, White Butterbur, White Buttons, Willdenow's Leopardsbane, Winter Heliotrope, Wood Burdock, Wood Ragwort, Woody Fleabane, Woolly Thistle, Yarrow, Yellow Chamomile, Yellow Fox and Cubs, Yellow Oxeye, Yellow Star Thistle, Yellow Thistle, York Groundsel
Life Cycle:
Maximum Size:
2 metres tall
Ditches, fens, fields, heathland, marshes, meadows, riversides, swamps, waterside, wetland, woodland.

Purple, many petals
Loose clusters of purple flowers, occasionally white. Purple bracts, up to 1.5cm.
Flat, shiny achene (seed) with a feathery tuft of hairs (pappus) at one end.
The leaves are alternately arranged along the stems. The pinnate leaves are very prickly and deeply lobed. Similar looking to Creeping Thistle but Marsh Thistle has got prickly stems. The stems of Creeping Thistle are smooth.
Other Names:
European Marsh Thistle, European Swamp Thistle, Marsh Plume Thistle, Swamp Thistle.
Frequency (UK):

Similar Species

Other Information


Cirsium palustre, also known as marsh thistle or European marsh thistle, is a perennial herb native to Europe and parts of Asia. It is typically found in wetland habitats such as marshes, fens, and damp meadows. The plant has a tall, spiky stem and produces large, purple flower heads. It is considered an invasive species in some areas, such as North America, due to its ability to outcompete native vegetation. Cirsium palustre has been used traditionally for medicinal purposes, such as for treating liver and gallbladder complaints.


Marsh Thistle (Cirsium palustre), also known as the European Marsh Thistle, is a beautiful and hardy plant species that belongs to the family Asteraceae. This species of thistle is native to Europe and is commonly found in marshy or damp habitats, such as bogs, fens, and wet meadows.

The Marsh Thistle is a biennial plant that grows up to 150 cm tall, producing large, spiny leaves and bright, showy flowers. The leaves are deeply lobed, with the edges covered in stiff, white spines that protect the plant from herbivores. The flowers are typically purple or lilac in color and bloom from June to August. They are visited by a variety of pollinators, including bees, butterflies, and moths, making them an important source of food for many insects.

In addition to its ornamental value, the Marsh Thistle has a number of medicinal uses. The roots and leaves of the plant have been used in traditional medicine to treat a variety of ailments, including digestive problems, skin conditions, and respiratory issues.

Despite its value as a medicinal and ornamental plant, the Marsh Thistle can also be a problematic invasive species in some areas. This plant is capable of colonizing disturbed habitats and outcompeting native vegetation, which can have negative effects on local ecosystems.

However, with proper management, the Marsh Thistle can be controlled and prevented from spreading. In areas where it is not invasive, the plant can be an attractive and valuable addition to a garden or wildflower meadow.

Aside from its ornamental and medicinal uses, the Marsh Thistle is also an important food source for wildlife. The seeds of the plant are a source of food for small mammals, such as mice and voles, as well as for birds, such as goldfinches and buntings. The flowers and leaves are also eaten by caterpillars of several species of moths, including the Marsh Pug and the Tawny Marbled Minor.

The Marsh Thistle is also an important indicator species, used to determine the quality of wetland habitats. Wetlands are vital ecosystems that provide numerous benefits, including filtering pollutants, reducing flooding, and supporting a rich variety of wildlife. When the Marsh Thistle is present in high numbers, it can indicate a healthy and thriving wetland ecosystem.

In terms of cultivation, the Marsh Thistle is a relatively easy plant to grow. It prefers moist, well-drained soils and full sun to partial shade. In cultivation, the plant can be propagated from seed or by dividing the roots. When planting from seed, it is recommended to sow the seeds in fall or spring and to keep the soil consistently moist until germination.

If you are interested in incorporating the Marsh Thistle into your garden or landscaping, it is important to consider its invasive potential in your area. In areas where the plant is not native, it is best to grow it in a contained area, such as a garden or meadow, to prevent it from spreading into natural habitats.

In addition to its beauty and ecological significance, the Marsh Thistle also holds cultural and historical significance in many regions. In some cultures, the plant was believed to have magical properties and was used in folk medicine to ward off evil spirits and protect against ailments.

In medieval times, the Marsh Thistle was also believed to have medicinal properties, and it was commonly used as an herbal remedy for a variety of ailments. Today, many of these traditional uses have been scientifically validated, and the plant is still used in traditional medicine in some parts of Europe.

In terms of conservation, the Marsh Thistle is considered to be a species of least concern by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). While it is not considered to be at risk of extinction, its habitat is being threatened by development, wetland draining, and other forms of human disturbance.

To help protect and conserve the Marsh Thistle and its habitat, it is important to take steps to conserve and restore wetlands, protect wild populations of the plant from development and habitat destruction, and to control its spread in areas where it is considered invasive.

In addition to its beauty and ecological significance, the Marsh Thistle is also a valuable source of nectar for honeybees and other pollinators. Honey made from the nectar of the Marsh Thistle has a unique and flavorful taste that is highly prized by some beekeepers.

The Marsh Thistle is also an important food plant for the larvae of several species of butterflies and moths, including the Marsh Pug, the Tawny Marbled Minor, and the Small Fan-foot. These insects rely on the Marsh Thistle for food and shelter, and the presence of the plant in an ecosystem can be an indicator of a healthy and thriving habitat.

In some regions, the Marsh Thistle is also used in traditional cuisine. The young leaves of the plant can be eaten raw or cooked, and they have a slightly bitter taste that is often compared to spinach or endive. The roots of the plant can also be roasted and ground into a powder, which can be used as a coffee substitute.

The Marsh Thistle is a hardy plant that can thrive in a variety of wetland habitats, including marshes, fens, bogs, and riverbanks. However, it is also highly adaptable and can grow in drier soils as well, making it a versatile and valuable addition to any landscape.

In the garden, the Marsh Thistle is often used in wildflower gardens, meadows, and naturalized areas, where its tall spikes of flowers provide an attractive vertical accent. It can also be used as a background plant in mixed borders or as a specimen plant in water gardens.

When planting Marsh Thistle in the garden, it is important to choose a site with well-drained soil and full sun to partial shade. The plant is also relatively drought-tolerant and can withstand short periods of drought once established.

In addition to its ornamental value, the Marsh Thistle is also valued for its medicinal properties. The plant has been used in traditional medicine for centuries to treat a variety of ailments, including skin conditions, digestive problems, and respiratory issues.

In conclusion, the Marsh Thistle is a versatile and valuable plant that offers a wealth of benefits to gardeners and the environment. Whether you are interested in its ornamental, medicinal, or ecological value, the Marsh Thistle is a plant that is well worth exploring and incorporating into your landscape.


Marsh Thistles filmed on Winter Hill, Lancashire, 7th June 2022.


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Distribution Map

Reproduced by kind permission of the BSBI.

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