musk thistle
Carduus nutans L.


Carduus nutans is an herbaceous, biennial plant that grows to 6 ft. (1.8 m) tall. The stem has very spiny wings. Carduus species may hybridize with each other.
Leaves are green and lanceolate to oblong-lanceolate. They are often pinnatifid and are very prickly. Leaves are usually sessile to slightly clasping. Basal leaves are 4-16 in. (10-40 cm) long. Leaf characteristics are variable across different varieties and subspecies.
Showy, solitary, hemispherical, red to purple, disk flowers bloom from June to September. Phyllaries are spinetipped and overlap with several rows.
Fruits are small achenes, 1.52 in. (45 mm) long, about 0.04 in. (1 mm) in diameter, including a white to light brown pappus. The seeds have longitudinal dotted stripes.
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). Carduus nutans is native to Western Europe and was accidentally introduced into the United States in the early 1900s.

Selected Images


EDDMapS Distribution

EDDMapS Distribution - This map is incomplete and is based only on current site and county level reports made by experts, herbaria, and literature. For more information, visit

State Regulated List

State Regulated List - This map identifies those states that list this species on their regulated list. For more information, visit

State Regulated List
   No Data for this state
   Troublesome or Common weed in one or more crops

Most Troublesome / Most Common Agricultural Weed List
This map identifies those states that consider this species either most troublesome or most common in at least one commodity. For more information, visit the MTMC project page.

Invasive Listing Sources

Taxonomic Rank

Kingdom: Plantae
Phylum: Magnoliophyta
Class: Magnoliopsida
Subclass: Asteridae
Order: Asterales
Family: Asteraceae
Genus: Carduus
Subject: Carduus nutans L.

Synonyms and Other Names

Other Common Names:
nodding plumeless thistle, nodding thistle, bristle thistle

Related Scientific Names:
Carduus macrocephalus L. (Synonym)
Carduus macrolepis L. (Synonym)


Plants - Forbs/Herbs