Nodding Thistle

Biological Name:

Nodding-Thistle – Carduus nutans

Natural Habitat:

Nodding-Thistle: This plant is native to Europe and Asia, and can be found in a variety of habitats, including meadows, pastures, and waste areas.


Nodding-thistle is a type of flowering plant that is commonly found in fields and other grassy areas. It is a member of the Asteraceae family which also includes plants such as daisies and sunflowers. Nodding-thistle is an annual or perennial plant that produces small purple or white flowers and clusters of seeds. The plant is often used as a cover crop to improve soil health and suppress weeds. It is also known for its ability to tolerate a wide range of growing conditions including wet or dry soils. In some areas nodding-thistle is considered a weed because of its ability to invade cultivated areas and cause allergies and other health problems.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Q: Is nodding thistle edible?
A: The leaves and midrib can be eaten like greens after removing the sharp spines, and the stalks that produce the flowers can be peeled and eaten raw or sautéed like asparagus. The best time to harvest Nodding thistles for food is before they flower when the stalks are tender and juicy.

Q: Are thistles poisonous to touch?
A: This method may be more difficult due to the fact they have hairs that cause a painful irritating sting and spread by underground stems. Thistles are a noxious weed and while not particularly poisonous they are harmful if touched or swallowed.

Q: What happens if you eat thistle?
A: Plants frequently grow to five feet tall and prefer plenty of sun. In addition to the root, the stems are edible, when peeled. However, the thistle contains inulin, which gives some people digestive issues.

Q: How do you get rid of nodding thistle?
A: Plant prolifically. Thistle seedlings germinate in empty, unshaded soil. Pulling them may leave a portion of root behind, which will re-sprout in time. … Cover it. Mulch eliminates thistle seed germination and smothers new plants. … Snip smart. In lawns, snip small thistle at the soil level.

Q: Is the thistle plant good for anything?
A: Thistle is a very beneficial plant for pollinators. Bees, flies, beetles, and butterflies all like the nectar of the thistle flowers.

Q: What is a thistle plant good for?
A: Historically, people have used milk thistle for liver disorders and gallbladder problems. Milk thistle is promoted as a dietary supplement for hepatitis, cirrhosis, jaundice, diabetes, indigestion, and other conditions.

Q: Is nodding thistle invasive?
A: Ecological Threat. Carduus nutans invades a variety of disturbed areas. Pastures are particularly at risk because It is unpalatable to livestock. Once established it can spread rapidly due to high seed production (as much as 120,000 seed per plant).

Q: How do you control nodding thistle?
A: provide control if repeated over a number of years. Mowing just before seed set is ef- fective, but the debris should be collected and burned. Severing the taproot just below ground will kill plants. either Metsulfuron-methyl or 2,4-D, is registered for use on nodding thistle.

Q: Why is thistle a problem?
A: They have become major problems in agricultural landscapes and 22 states have designated them as noxious weeds. Thistles do attract pollinators and birds, but the spiny leaves and stems keep grazers away. Some thistles release chemicals into the soil that inhibit the growth of other plants.

Q: Why is the creeping thistle a problem?
A: The loss of native plants tends to disrupt animal habitats and limits food sources for grazing wildlife. Creeping thistle also produces chemicals that alter the pH levels in the soil, giving native species even more trouble. It can spread via seeds or can regrow from buried parts of the root.

Q: Do thistles come back every year?
A: Thistle is an invasive biennial or perennial weed, meaning it grows every other year, or grows every year depending on the species and can form large infestations quickly.

Q: Do thistle roots survive winter?
A: Spring treatment: All winter, Canada thistle lays dormant under the ground, subsisting on the nutrients stored in its roots and rhizomes. When the snow melts in spring, it will use that precious stored energy to push a flush of leaves out of the ground, which will start out as a patch of spiny rosettes.

Q: How fast does thistle spread?
A: Once the plant becomes established, roots are the most important means of propagation. Canada thistle has an extensive underground root system that may penetrate the soil to a depth of 10 feet or more and grow laterally 12 to 15 feet per year.

Q: Is nodding thistle poisonous to humans?
A: Edible thistles As a group, thistles of the genus Cirsium as well as the nodding thistle (Carduus nutans) are edible, although they vary in palatability, as Samuel Thayer writes in The Forager’s Harvest (2006).

Q: What happens if you touch thistles?
A: Description: Perennial herb with bright blue flowers and small oval leaves. Health Risks: Entire plant covered in extremely sharp hairs that release an allergen when touched, causing pain, itching, and irritation. Baking soda could be a suggested remedy to symptoms.

Q: Are thistles good for anything?
A: Like many plants in the thistle clade of the botanical family Asteraceae, bull thistles provide ample pollen and nectar resources for butterflies, honeybees, hummingbirds, and beneficial insects like green lacewings. Birds like goldfinches and juncos love their seeds, as do white-tailed deer and rabbits.

Q: What do nodding thistle look like?
A: Leaves: Dark green in color, coarsely lobed, with a smooth waxy surface and a yellowish to white spine at the tip. Stems: Very spiny wings, multi-branched and ranging from 1 1/2 to 6 ft in height.

Q: How do I know if I have nodding thistle?
A: The plant is most easily identified at the flowering stage when it has drooping purple flower heads which nod in the wind. The flowering stems are up to 1.5m tall, stout and bear spiny wings to just below the flower heads.

Q: Do thistle plants spread?
A: Not only do thistles spread via seed, their thick, white roots also spread underground, causing new plants to pop up on a regular basis. Weeds that spread in this fashion should never be tilled or the problem will become worse as each root piece the tilling process leaves behind will develop into a new plant.

Q: Are thistle plants invasive?
A: Bull, musk, plumeless, and Scotch thistles are annual and biennial nonnative plants in the sunflower family that are considered invasive. Plumeless and Scotch thistles are listed as noxious weeds in both Arizona and New Mexico.

About the author

Samuel is a gardening professional and enthusiast who has spent over 20 years advising homeowners and farm owners on weed identification, prevention and removal. He has an undergraduate degree in plant and soil science from Michigan State University.