U.S. Department of Agriculture: Forest Service -- National Agroforestry Center


Date of this Version



Published by the USDA, 2008


“Thistle” is an old English name for a large variety of weedy, prickly plants that grow throughout the world. The most notable characteristics of thistles are the prickly stems and leaves and the bracts around the flower head. While many different plants have “thistle” in their common name, only certain plant species fit the taxonomic requirements of being considered “true thistles.” True thistle species fall within the family Asteraceae, the tribe Cardueae, and the subtribe Carduinae. Examples of plants that are not true thistles include yellow starthistle (subtribe Centaureinae), sow thistle (subtribe Sonchinae), and Russian thistle (family Chenopodiaceae). Only true thistles in the subtribe Carduinae are discussed in this manual.