florida Early Detection Network


Canada thistle


Cirsium arvense (L.) Scop.


Aster family


Cirsium arvense

Flowers-white morph


Close-up of flowers




Leaf close-up


Synonyms: Carduus arvensis (L.) Scop., Cirsium incanum (Gmel.) Fisch., Cirsium setosum (Willd.) Bess. Ex Bieb., Serratula arvensis L.


Botanical Glossary

Cirsium arvense is a rhizomatous perennial that grows 30 cm-1.5 m (1-5 ft.) tall. The roots of this plant can grow deep into the ground. The leaves are dark green and lanceolate or oblong-lanceolate. They are mostly glabrous above, but their undersides have short, white hairs. They may be pinnatifid and very prickly. The basal leaves can be 12-20 cm (5-8 in.) long. The leaves are usually sessile, but can be slightly clasping. In general, the leaf characteristics are variable across several different varieties and subspecies. The stems of Cirsium arvense do not have conspicuous spines. The plants are polygamo-dioecious, thus there are male and female plants. The female inflorescences are flask-shaped, 1-1.5 cm (0.4-0.6 in.) in diameter, and 1-2 cm (0.4-0.75 in.) tall. The female flowers have a fragrance, while the male flowers do not. The male flowers are more globose in shape than the female flowers and are smaller. The flowers are usually purple in color, but can be pink or white. The plant is in bloom from June to August. The fruits (achenes) are tiny, 2-3 mm (0.1 in.) long and about 1 mm (0.04 in.) in diameter, and have a white to light brown pappus attached. Page Reference Fernald 1542, Gleason & Cronquist 613, Holmgren 583, Magee & Ahles 1016, Newcomb 430, Peterson & McKenny 304. See reference section below for full citations.


Carduus acanthiodes L. (plumeless thistle), Carduus crispus L. (welted thistle). The main difference between Carduus acanthiodes, Carduus crispus and Cirsium arvense is that the two Carduus species are both non-rhizomatous biennials while Cirsium arvense is a perennial.


Cirsium arvense spreads primarily by rhizomatous vegetative reproduction. Reproduction by seed is secondary. Although the seeds have pappus, most of the time it breaks off leaving the seed to fall close to the plant. The small percentage of seeds that remain attached to the pappus may be dispersed by wind, occasionally over a considerable distance. Water dispersal is also possible.


Cirsium arvense is native to Europe; it most likely originated from southeast Europe and the eastern Mediterranean, but it has been so widespread for so long that it is difficult to establish its true native range. It presently has a global distribution between 37 and 59 degrees North latitude. It is widespread in all U.S. states and Canadian provinces.


Cirsium arvense was introduced in the northeast sometime early in the 17th century. It was declared a noxious weed in Vermont by 1795. By 1918 it was on noxious weed lists in 25 northern states in the U.S.


Abandoned Field, Abandoned Gravel Pit, Agricultural Field, Edge, Open Disturbed Area, Pasture, Railroad Right-of-Way, Roadside, Utility Right-of-Way, Vacant Lot, Yard or Garden. Cirsium arvense is most commonly found in agricultural and disturbed sites, or sites that are undergoing restoration. It is shade intolerant and therefore is rarely found within wooded sites, except in clearings. It is found in some dry, sandy sites, but more commonly on the edges of wet habitats such as stream banks and lake shores. In the western and northern U.S. it presents a significant problem in prairie and riparian habitats.


Cirsium arvense is difficult to remove through mechanical means; the entire rhizomatous system of roots must be removed. Cirsium arvense directly competes with native vegetation; it can reduce species diversity, alter habitat structure, decrease crop yields and reduce forage for pasture.


Illinois Natural History Survey - General description and management guidelines

Plant Conservation Alliance


Documentation required: A photograph of the habit or inflorescences. Best time for documentation: Summer, fall.


Integrated Taxonomic Information System - Taxonomic information about the species

The PLANTS database - General information and map

Plant Conservation Alliance - Description and control information

Illinois Nature Preserves Commission - Photograph, description and control information

Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources - Description, biology and control information

Ohio Perennial and Biennial Weed Guide - Photographs and description


Amor, R.L. and Harris, R.V. 1974. Distribution and seed production of Cirsium arvense (L.) Scop. in Victoria, Australia. Weed Research 14, 317-323.

Amor, R.L. and Harris, R.V. 1977. Control of Cirsium arvense (L.) Scop. by pesticides and mowing. Weed Research 17, 303-309.

Bacher, S. and F. Schwab. 2000. Effect of herbivore density, timing of attack and plant community on performance of creeping thistle Cirsium arvense (L.) Scop. (Asteraceae). Biocontrol Science and Technology 10 (3): 343-352.

Beck, K.G., J.R. Sebastian. 2000. Combining mowing and fall-applied herbicides to control canada thistle (Cirsium arvense). Weed Technology 14 (2): 351-356.

Britton, N. L. and A. Brown. 1970. An Illustrated Flora of the Northeastern United States vol. 3. Dover Publications Inc., New York.

Donald, W.W. and M. Khan. 1996. Canada thistle (Cirsium arvense) effects on yield components of spring wheat (Triticum aestivum). Weed Science 44 (1): 114-121.

Edwards, G.R., G.W. Bourdot and M.J. Crawley. 2000. Influence of herbivory, competition and soil fertility on the abundance of Cirsium arvense in acid grassland. Journal of Applied Ecology 37 (2): 321-334.

Evans, J.E. 1984. Canada Thistle (Cirsium arvense): a literature review of management practices. Natural Areas Journal 4: 11-21.

Fernald, M.L. 1950. Gray's Manual of Botany 8th ed. American Book Co., Boston.

Gleason, H.A. and A.C. Cronquist. 1991. Manual of Vascular Plants of the Northeastern United States and Adjacent Canada. 2nd ed. New York Botanical Garden, Bronx, New York.

Gustavsson, A.M.D. 1997. Growth and regenerative capacity of plants of Cirsium arvense. Weed Research 37 (4): 229-236.

Hansen, A.A. 1918. Canada thistle and methods of eradication. U.S.D.A. Farmers Bulletin 1002. 15 p.

Heimann, B. and G.W. Cussans. 1996. The importance of seeds and sexual reproduction in the population biology of Cirsium arvense - a literature review. Weed Research 36 (6): 493-503.

Hoffman, R. and K. Kearns. 1998. Wisconsin Manual of Control Recommendations for ecologically invasive plants. Bureau of Endangered Resources, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, Madison, Wisconsin, USA.

Holmgren, N.H. 1998. Illustrated Companion to Gleason and Cronquist's Manual. New York Botanical Garden, Bronx, New York.

Lalonde, R.G. and B.D. Roitberg. 1994. Mating system, life-history, and reproduction in Canada thistle (Cirsium arvense, Asteraceae). American Journal of Botany 81 (1): 21-28.

Lebedev, V.P., I.V. Zhuravleva and G.K. Fomicheva. 2001. Specific features of the population ecology of Creeping Thistle, Cirsium arvense (L.) Scop. S. L. Russian Journal Of Ecology 32 (2): 85-88.

Magee, D.W and H.E. Ahles. 1999. Flora of the Northeast. University of Massachusetts Press, Amherst.

Moore, R.J. 1975. The biology of Canadian weeds. 13: Cirsium arvense (L.) Scop. Can. J. of Plant Science 55: 1033-1048.

Newcomb, N. 1977. Newcomb's Wildflower Guide. Little Brown, Boston.

Peterson, R.T. and M. McKenny. 1968. A field Guide to Wildflowers of Northeastern and North-central North America. Houghton Mifflin, Boston.

Shimming, W.K. and C.G. Messersmith. 1988. Freezing resistance of overwintering buds of four perennial weeds. Weed Science 36, 568-573.

Soukup, J., M. Kratochvil and J. Tresnak. 2000. Control of creeping thistle (Cirsium arvense (L.) Scop.) by growth regulator-herbicides and their mixtures with sulfonylureas in spring barley. Zeitschrift Fur Pflanzenkrankheiten Und Pflanzenschutz-Journal of Plant Diseases and Protection 595-601, Sp. Iss. S7.

Tworkoski, T.J., M.E. Engle and P.T. Kujawski. 1998. Effect of moisture stress and glyphosate on adventitious shoot growth of canada thistle (Cirsium arvense). Weed Science 46 (1): 59-64.

USDA, NRCS. 2001. The PLANTS Database, Version 3.1. (http://plants.usda.gov). National Plant Data Center, Baton Rouge, LA 70874-4490 USA.

Wilson, R.G. 1979. Germination and seedling development of Canada thistle (Cirsium arvense). Weed Science 27: 146-151.

Wilson, R.G. and S.D. Kachman. 1999. Effect of perennial grasses on canada thistle (Cirsium arvense) control. Weed Technology 13 (1): 83-87