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Musk Thistle

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An attractive thistle with a large flower pad that distinctively bends forward.


Musk Thistle: the nodding thistle

Post date: Monday, 8 September, 2014 - 00:00

It seems that thistles are not very popular. Considered an untidy, invasive weed they are frequently loathed and persecuted. Is it right then that I should have a favourite from amongst this despised family of plants? Well, whether it is right or not, the musk thistle (Carduus nutans) is undoubtedly my favourite thistle. It has the most lovely soft purple pads which bumblebees just love to snuggle in to and gorge themselves on the nectar and pollen. In late summer it seems every blossom has at least one bee nestled into it.

The musk thistle is also known as the nodding thistle because the flower head tilts forward and then, as the breeze blows, it nods, up and down. It is the turned down head that makes this species distinctive from the others.

This is a thistle that likes chalk downland and is relatively common on the Dorset cliffs, the Purbeck Ridge and the inland chalk grasslands where there is a bare patch of soil or perhaps where the ground has been disturbed, often by cattle hooves. It is a local species rather than a common one; where it occurs it is frequent but it is restricted in where it occurs.


The records for this species have been organised into reports, charts, maps and photos. Click a pic below to see the detail:

Sites List Distribution Map Some Charts Some Photographs Original Tweets Relatives Guidance Notes
Common Name Musk Thistle
Scientific Name Carduus nutans
Family Daisy family - Compositae
Status Locally frequent
Interest Level
Species Family Daisy Family - Compositae
Flower Colour Group Purple
  • 05 - May
  • 06 - June
  • 07 - July
  • 08 - August
  • 09 - September
Preferred Environment
Look for Lovely soft flower pads adored by bees and with the flower heads bending over
Additional Identification Notes
Similar Species

This species is often found in these habitats:

Habitat(s) Relationship
GN: Neutral Grassland Associated