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Plant Families / Cirsium - Thistles


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Cirsium - Thistles

Mostly native to Eurasia and northern Africa, with about 60 species from North America, Cirsium (Thistle) is a genus of perennial and biennial flowering plants with spiny, often handsome, leaves and effusive, thistle-like flower heads, usually purple, rose or pink, also yellow or white. Some species are cultivated in gardens and wildflower plantings for their aesthetic value and/or to support pollinators such as butterflies. Easy to grow, thistles are striking in the middle or as a backdrop to other flowers in the garden and provide some height in late spring and summer. Where happy, they will self-seed with abandon.

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Cirsium altissimum (Tall Thistle)

Cirsium altissimum (Tall Thistle) is a tall biennial or short-lived perennial producing a basal rosette in the first year and flowers in the second year. Its upright, sparingly branched stems bear alternate leaves with deep spine-tipped lobes and downy white undersides. In mid summer to fall, the plant boasts purple to pink pincushion-like flower heads, 2 in. across (5 cm), packed with small disk florets.

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Cirsium discolor (Field Thistle)

Cirsium discolor (Field Thistle) is a tall biennial or short-lived perennial producing a basal rosette in the first year and flowers in the second year. Its upright stem is usually hairy and branched on the upper third. It is clad with alternate leaves with deep spine-tipped lobes and downy white undersides. In early summer to fall, the plant boasts lavender pink pincushion-like flower heads, 2 in. across (5 cm), packed with over 100 disc flowers.

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Cirsium muticum (Swamp Thistle)

A high-value nectar plant, Cirsium muticum (Swamp Thistle) is a tall biennial producing a basal rosette of slightly prickly, deeply lobed leaves in the first year and flowers in the second year. In mid summer to fall, the plant boasts large, deep rosy-purple, pincushion-like flower heads, 2 in. across (5 cm), packed with numerous disc florets.

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Cirsium occidentale (Cobwebby Thistle)

Tall and stately, Cirsium occidentale (Cobwebby Thistle) is an utterly charming biennial or short-lived perennial producing a basal rosette in the first year and flowers in the second year. Its stout and upright stem may be unbranched or with several ascending lateral branches. All parts of the plant are covered with long, pale, silky hairs, which resemble cobwebs.

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Cirsium rivulare 'Atropurpureum' (Plume Thistle)

A very desirable garden plant, Cirsium rivulare 'Atropurpureum', commonly known as Plume Thistle, is a tall, branching, upright perennial exhibiting strong, leafless stems with pincushion-like, deep crimson flowers atop a large basal rosette of soft green leaves

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