Cirsium discolor (Field Thistle)

Tried and True Native Plant Selections for the Mid-Atlantic

Despite their importance to the ecosystem, native thistles have acquired an undeserved notoriety, often mistaken for invasive, non-native thistles. Field Thistle is native* to meadows and forest edges mostly in the eastern half of the U.S. and can be distinguished from the weedy, European bull thistle by the white undersides of its leaves and spineless stems. It provides copious late summer nectar and seed to myriad winged visitors.

*It is native throughout most of the Mid-Atlantic Region although it has not been recorded in NoVA’s Arlington County.

Print Version (Legal Size): Cirsium discolor (Field Thistle)

Height: 3–10 feet 
 
Spread: 1–2 feet 
 
Bloom Color: Pink to lavender, rarely white 
 
Characteristics 
 
Clump-forming biennial or short lived perennial 
Deep, narrow lobed leaves with toothed/spiny margins and hoary to tomentose undersides 
100+, tube-shaped disc flowers on a head of green scale-like bracts with a white stripe and slender spines bloom about a month August to September 
Cypselae with white pappi distributed by wind 
Readily self-seeds (most fall fairly close to parent) 
 
Attributes 
Introduced species of weevils can cause significant damage; deer rarely damage 
Ethnobotanic uses; some parts edible 
Attracts bees, butterflies, moths, and hummers to nectar; finches to seeds; larval host for Painted Lady and some moth species 
Growing and Maintenance Tips 
Soil Requirements: Well-drained loam, clay-loam 
Light Requirements: Sun, Partial Shade 
Water Requirements: Dry, Moist 
Flowering stems grow from a basal rosette after one to three winters 
Lower leaves may wither in dry weather 
Use in meadows, cottage, or pollinator gardens 
Hardiness: USDA Zones 3–9 
Excellent Replacement for 
Buddleia species - Butterfly Bush 
C. arvense, C. vulgare - Canadian & Bull Thistles 
Lythrum salicaria - Purple Loosestrife