Pasture thistle indiana dunes

Family:     Asteraceae (Sunflower family)

Duration:  Biennial - Perennial

Height:     80-200 cm (up to 6 ft)

Blooming: Aug.-Oct.


Pasture Thistle

Cirsium discolor  (Muhl. ex Willd.) Spreng.

Stem: single stem with the upper third branching. There are no wings on the stem.  

Flowers: large, composite flowerheads that are lavender to pink colored rarely white. Each stem has an individual flowerhead on it. The individual flowerheads can be up to 5 cm (2 in) across.

Leaves: deeply loved with each tip having a spine. The underside of the leaf has a distinct white mat of hair.  Leaves can grow up to 23 cm (9 in) long. The top side of the leaf is green.Leaf arrangement is alternate.

Sun: Full sun to filtered shade


Cirsium discolor Indiana
Cirsium discolor indiana

CommentsPasture or field thistle does not reproduce with rhizomes (underground stems) but relies on its seed production. Pasture thistle has a deep taproot. After flowering, the thistle will die, but its seeds will allow it to live on.

Etymology: The genus, Cirsium, comes from the greek word for "swollen vein" due to the idea that it cured swollen veins. The specific epithet, discolor, is Latin for the changing of the color due to its leaf coloration.

Butterfly host plant:  Cirsium discolor is a host plant to the larvae of the Painted Lady Butterfly (Vanessa cardui)

all photos by Nathanael Pilla

Landscape: Thistles are important plants for birds and insects; however, because of the invasion of non-native thistles, most thistles are overlooked as weeds. Pasture thistle should be planted in natural areas like large meadow gardens or prairies. The thistle seeds attract American goldfinches (Spinus tristis). The flowerheads attract bumblebees, hummingbirds, and butterflies.

Species Present and Native