Cirsium vulgare (Bull Thistle)

Plant Info
Also known as:
Family:Asteraceae (Aster)
Life cycle:biennial
  • Invasive - ERADICATE!
  • Noxious Weed
  • Prohibited or Restricted species
Habitat:sun; dry fields, roadsides, railroads, waste areas, disturbed soils
Bloom season:June - October
Plant height:2 to 6 feet
Wetland Indicator Status:GP: UPL MW: FACU NCNE: FACU
MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):Minnesota county distribution map
National distribution (click map to enlarge):National distribution map

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Detailed Information

Flower: Flower shape: indistinct Cluster type: panicle

[photo of flower] Reddish-purple flower head 1½ to 2 inches across, solitary or a few clustered at the ends of branching stems. The bracts are narrow and spreading, tipped with short spines.

Leaves and stem: Leaf attachment: alternate Leaf type: lobed Leaf type: simple

[photo of leaves] Leaves are 3 to 6 inches long and up to 2 inches wide, alternately attached, hairy on the upper surface and around the edges, and woolly on the underside. Each leaf has 3 or more narrow lobes, with a ½-inch long sharp, yellowish spine at the tip of each lobe.

[photo of stems] Stems are hairy and covered with small, leafy, spine-tipped “wings”.

Fruit: Fruit type: seed with plume

[photo of seed] Like other thistles, the seeds have plumes of long white hairs to carry them off in the wind.


Bull Thistle is on the noxious weed list for Minnesota and is one of the spiniest thistles. It resembles Plumeless Thistle (Carduus acanthoides), also a noxious weed, but its flowers are typically 1 inch across or less, leaves are mostly hairless on the upper surface, and is overall even spinier than Bull Thistle. The non-native thistles are all sharply spiny where the natives either have few or no spines, or have soft spines. The bracts are unique for most thistle species and are another identifying characteristic.

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More photos

Photos by K. Chayka taken at Long Lake Park, Ramsey County. Photos courtesy Peter M. Dziuk taken at various locations across Minnesota.


Have you seen this plant in Minnesota, or have any other comments about it?

Posted by: David - Zumbro Falls
on: 2014-07-21 04:44:05

I just chopped down a couple of these on my property. One plant was a set of 5 - inch and a half(4cm) hollow stalks sprouting from a common root. This was a truly fearsome plant, at least 7 feet tall. Is this Bull Thistle? I can't find any other thistles in your catalog that seem to compare. It's flowers hadn't yet developed fully, I didn't want to wait for that occurrence.

Posted by: K. Chayka
on: 2014-07-21 09:03:03

A thistle that tall is actually more likely to be a native, perhaps Cirsium discolor. The bracts and overall prickliness of the plant will tell you if it's a native or not - the non-native thistles are usually painfully prickly. You should keep any native thistles - they are excellent pollinator plants!

Posted by: Bill - Thief River Falls
on: 2014-08-01 10:43:49

I have Bull Thistle blooming on my property each year. This year I have one the is blooming white instead of purple.

Posted by: Mary L - Rosemount
on: 2016-07-18 01:19:15

I have many of these in my yard. I try to spade them out before they set seeds off to wander. My favorite flower is the huge Southern thistle, but these up here are hard to contain, are not as fragrant or as showy

Posted by: Kaden T - Zim Rd.
on: 2017-03-29 13:13:01

I have these growing in my field and I do not like them. They HURT.

Posted by: bface - GRAND RAPIDS
on: 2017-04-04 12:08:18

i hate these stupid things they really hurt

Posted by: erik - little falls
on: 2017-06-17 19:52:21

I unfortunately allowed some Bull Thistle to go to seed the last couple of years. Big mistake,now the battle is on to eradicate probably hundreds of thistles!

Posted by: Chris R K - Stearns County
on: 2017-09-07 14:22:04

Bull Thistle has not been on MN's Noxious weed list for several years and this listing should probably be corrected. It would be helpful to get some side-by-side comparison of Bull with Plumeless because they are difficult to tell apart. Thanks! Here's the MN noxious weed list for 2017:

Posted by: Kim - St Paul scenic overlook
on: 2019-07-19 05:50:07

They are fully developed with the purple flowery tassles . They seem to be taking over this side of the bluff. St Paul probably needs to take a look and start working on getting rid if these weeds .

Posted by: Claire B - Osage
on: 2020-06-15 11:20:50

These thistles were all over our property and nothing seemed to help getting them to die off - lime spread in the early spring helped some, but what really helped was planting clover all over our property. I think upping the nitrogen in the soil has made it unfriendly to thistle!

Posted by: Barbara Herman - Minnetonka
on: 2020-07-13 22:11:12

On my walking path the Loose Line. Right on Hwy #7 I saw it right next to the old railroad bridge. It was bright pink and showy. I was able to photo it in several different stages on the one plant.Loved it....

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