Spear thistle

Spear Thistle


Spear Thistle

©Chris Gomersall/2020VISION

Spear thistle

Scientific name: Cirsium vulgare
A common plant of disturbed ground like roadside verges and field edges, the Spear thistle has purple, fluffy flower heads that appear in summer. Its flowers attract insects and its seeds feed birds.

Species information


Height: up to 1m

Conservation status


When to see

July to October


A widespread and common thistle, the Spear thistle can be found on disturbed and cultivated ground, such as pastures, roadside verges and field edges from July to October. Its classic thistle appearance - purple, fluffy-looking flowers sitting atop a spiny ball - may well have given rise to the Scottish national emblem. As with other thistles, it can become a nuisance on agricultural land and these species are often considered to be weeds.

How to identify

The Spear thistle has flower heads with bright pink florets (tiny flowers) and a ball of spiny bracts (leaf-like structures). Its leaves are grey-green and spiny, and its tall stems are winged, spiny and cottony.



Did you know?

Despite its 'weed' status, the seeds of the Spear thistle are attractive to birds like Goldfinches and the flowers are a nectar source for butterflies like the Small copper.

How people can help

Our gardens are a vital resource for wildlife, providing corridors of green space between open countryside, allowing species to move about. In fact, the UK's gardens provide more space for nature than all the National Nature Reserves put together. So why not try leaving wilder areas in your garden, such as patches of buttercups in your lawn or nettles near your compost heap, to see who comes to visit? To find out more about encouraging wildlife into your garden, visit our Wild About Gardens website: a joint initiative with the RHS, there's plenty of facts and tips to get you started.