Main page content begins here

Nodding thistle
Photo Credit: Nicole Kimmel, Alberta Agriculture & Forestry

Common Name: Nodding Thistle

Scientific Name: Carduus nutans

Habitat: grassland, grassland dry, roadsides, disturbed areas

Provincial Designation: Prohibited Noxious

Prohibited Noxious weeds are plant species that are designated as "prohibited noxious" in the Alberta weed regulation. Prohibited noxious weeds must be destroyed, meaning all growing parts need to be killed or the plant's reproductive mechanisms need to be rendered non-viable.


Nodding thistle is native to southern Eurasia and was introduced to North America in the late 1800s as an ornamental garden plant.

Legislated Because

Nodding thistle is an aggressive invasive species. A single plant can produce as many as 50 flowering heads and each head can produce thousands of seeds. Nodding thistle thrives in a variety of soil conditions where it can rapidly form dense stands. Infestations can reduce the productivity of pastures by out-competing native forage species.


The single purple flowers of nodding thistle are 5-8 cm in diameter and grow at the end of long stems. The flowers are surrounded by broad spine-tipped bracts.

At maturity, the flowers droop down or nod. The leaves are dark green, deeply lobed and have spiny edges. They are alternately arranged and can grow up to 15 cm long. Spiny wings cover the stem except just below the flowering head.

Nodding thistle can grow up to 2.5 m tall.

Learn more about this species:

See Fact Sheets - Alberta Invasive Species Council

For More Information

Weed Identification


In Edmonton: 311

Outside Edmonton: 780-442-5311


End of page content. Please choose between the following five options:

Back to main menu Back to current page menu and content View current page breadcrumb Back to site search Continue to page footer content