Nodding thistle (Carduus nutans)

Nodding thistle

Carduus nutans


  • Solitary flowers at the end of a 20cm-2.5m tall stem
  • Alternate leaves, waxy cuticle
  • Flowers are purple-red with spiny bracts surrounding the flower.
  • Called ‘nodding thistle’ because the flowers droop down as they mature.

Introduction and spread

  • Native to Europe
  • A nodding thistle plant may produce up to 20 000 seeds
  • Seeds can be transported to new areas via vehicles, equipment or clothing
  • Prefers to establish on disturbed sites.

Consequences of invasion

  • A problem in grasslands where grazing animals favour grasses over the thistle, giving it an growth advantage
  • Outcompetes native grasses
  • Creates impenetrable thickets

Status in the CKISS region

  • Nodding thistle is classified as Regional EDRR on the CKISS Annual Priority List
  • It has been observed at very few sites in the region.
  • Measures are being taken to eradicate this species where it is found in our region, and prevent the plant from spreading to new sites.
  • To learn more about how CKISS classifies and manages invasive species, see our Invasive Species Priority Lists page.

Integrated pest management options


  • Be PlantWise! Choose only non-invasive plants for your garden.
  • Learn to properly identify nodding thistle
  • Clean equipment and gear before leaving an infested site


  • Hand digging and mowing can be effective if repeated over a period of time
  • Mow just before plants flower to reduce seed production.
  • Transport securely and dispose of removed invasive species properly at a landfill

Additional resources