Scotch thistle
Onopordum acanthium L.


Onopordum acanthium is an herbaceous biennial plant that can grow up to about 6.5 ft. (2 m) in height. The plant is coarse, many-spined and is highly branched. The stems of O. acanthium are winged. The whole plant is densely tomentose, giving it a bluish-white appearance.
The leaves are oblong and prickly, being toothed or slightly lobed along the margins. The apex of the leaf is acute. The leaves are mostly sessile, with some of the lower leaves having petioles. The blades of the lower leaves can measure up to 1 ft. (30 cm) long. Since this plant is a biennial, only the basal rosette of leaves is present in the first year of its growth.
The flower heads are purple and measure 1-2 in. (2.5-5 cm) in diameter. All of the bracts of the involucre are tipped with flat, pale, orange-colored spines. Flowering occurs from July to October.
The seeds of this plant are 0.2 in. (4-5 mm) long. They are gray in color, and attached to a brown-colored pappus that can be two times as long as the seed.
Ecological Threat
O. acanthium is a major agricultural weed in western United States. With enough moisture, it can resprout from roots cut up during cultivation. This plant spreads easily because each plant can produce over 20,000 wind dispersed seeds. The seeds can also be dispersed by water or by being caught in the fur of animals.


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

Taxonomic Rank

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

Synonyms and Other Names

Other Common Names:
Scottish thistle, cotton thistle, heraldic thistle, Scotch cottonthistle

Related Scientific Names:
Onopordum acanthium ssp. acanthium L. (Synonym)


Plants - Forbs/Herbs