Musk thistle Carduus nutans

☠ Toxic to humans
🐾 Toxic to pets
🌸 Blooming
🍪 Not edible
‍🌱 Hard-care
bank thistle
bank thistle
bank thistle
bank thistle
bank thistle


The plant commonly known as musk thistle or nodding thistle, exhibits a striking appearance. Its most notable feature is its large, nodding flower heads, which are a vibrant shade of purple to pinkish. These flower heads typically possess a fluffy, thistle-like quality, consisting of numerous slender petals that radiate from the center, giving it a somewhat spiky appearance. The bloom is supported by scaly, spiny bracts that add to its textured look. The foliage of musk thistle is dark green, with an irregular shape often characterized by wavy margins and a prickly surface, making the leaves somewhat spiny to the touch. This plant's leaves spiral up the stem, culminating in a rosette at the base that hugs the ground closely. The stem itself is sturdy, branched, and may have spiny wings running along it. The musk thistle derives its common name, "nodding thistle," from the way the flower heads tend to tilt or 'nod' downward, as if bowing, which gives the plant a distinctive and easily recognizable silhouette. Despite its prickly nature and classification as a weed in many areas, musk thistle has a certain ornamental charm because of its lush flowers and robust foliage.

Plant Info
Common Problems

About this plant

  • memoNames

    • Synonyms

      Musk Thistle, Nodding Thistle, Nodding Plumeless Thistle.

    • Common names

      Carduus nutans subsp. leiophyllus, Carduus nutans subsp. macrocephalus, Carduus nutans subsp. persicus, Carduus nutans var. leiophyllus, Carduus nutans var. macrocephalus, Carduus persicus, Carduus sordidus, Carduus subalpestris, Cirsium nutans, Cnicus nutans, Epitrachys nutans.

  • skullToxicity

    • To humans

      Musk thistle, commonly known as Carduus nutans, is not typically considered to be highly toxic to humans. However, as with many plants, individual reactions can vary, and some people may experience mild irritation or an allergic response upon contact with the plant or ingestion. It is always advisable to exercise caution and avoid ingesting parts of plants that are not known to be safe for consumption. If symptoms occur from plant ingestion or exposure, seek medical attention.

    • To pets

      For pets, Musk thistle, the common name for Carduus nutans, does not have a widespread reputation for being highly toxic. That being said, it is still not recommended for pets to ingest this or any wild plants due to possible individual sensitivities or the risk of gastrointestinal distress. If ingestion occurs and symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea, or unusual behavior appear, it is important to consult with a veterinarian.

  • infoCharacteristics

    • Life cycle


    • Foliage type


    • Color of leaves


    • Flower color


    • Height

      3-6 feet (0.9-1.8 meters)

    • Spread

      2-3 feet (0.6-0.9 meters)

    • Plant type


    • Hardiness zones


    • Native area



  • money-bagGeneral Benefits

    • Wildlife Habitat: Carduus nutans, commonly known as nodding thistle, offers a habitat and food source for various wildlife, including birds and insects.
    • Soil Improvement: The deep roots of nodding thistle can help break up compacted soil, allowing water and nutrients to penetrate deeper and improve soil health.
    • Erosion Control: The root system of this plant helps to stabilize the soil, reducing the risk of erosion in the areas where it grows.
    • Plant Diversity: Nodding thistle contributes to botanical diversity in its natural habitats, supporting different ecosystems.
    • Pollinator Support: The flowers of the nodding thistle provide nectar and pollen for bees and other pollinating insects, crucial for the pollination of many plants.

  • medicalMedical Properties

    • Diuretic effects: Carduus nutans has been used to increase urine output.
    • Astringent properties: The plant may have been used to contract skin tissues and stem bleeding.
    • Bitter tonic: It may have been used to stimulate appetite and digestion.
    • Anti-inflammatory effects: There are indications of its use to reduce inflammation.
    • Cholagogue action: Carduus nutans might have been used to promote the discharge of bile from the system.
    • Hepatoprotective effects: There is some evidence to suggest its use in protecting liver function.

  • windAir-purifying Qualities

    This plant is not specifically known for air purifying qualities.

  • leavesOther Uses

    • The seeds of the Musk Thistle, as it's commonly known, can be used as a bird food resource, especially favored by finches and other seed-eating birds.
    • The downy material attached to the seeds of the Musk Thistle may be collected and used as a tinder for starting fires in wilderness survival situations.
    • In some cultures, the stems of the Musk Thistle are peeled and can be cooked as a vegetable, similar to the way one might prepare a leek or celery.
    • The root of this plant, when peeled and boiled, can be consumed much like a parsnip or carrot in soups and stews.
    • The Musk Thistle is sometimes utilized in the practice of natural dyeing, where the plant can produce a green dye for textiles.
    • Young musk thistle leaves can be used to make a tea after they are thoroughly washed and dried.
    • The fibers from Musk Thistle can be experimented with for paper making, mixed with other paper pulp to create textured paper products.
    • In floristry, the dried flower heads of the Musk Thistle are sometimes used in floral arrangements for their unique texture and form.
    • Gardeners may use the Musk Thistle in companion planting to attract pollinators such as bees and butterflies to the garden due to its vibrant flowers.
    • As an art medium, the intricate structure of the dried Musk Thistle heads can be incorporated into sculptures and other art installations for visual interest.

Interesting Facts

  • bedFeng Shui

    The Musk Thistle is not used in Feng Shui practice.

  • aquariusZodiac Sign Compitability

    The Musk Thistle is not used in astrology practice.

  • spiralPlant Symbolism

    • Protection: The Carduus nutans, commonly known as the Musk Thistle, has spiny foliage and flower heads that suggest a symbolism of protection and defense against harm and negative forces.
    • Pride: Its tall and upright posture can symbolize pride, suggesting a sense of nobility, confidence, or sometimes, arrogance.
    • Independence: The ability of the Musk Thistle to thrive in tough conditions can be seen as a symbol of independence and resilience.
    • Attraction: Despite its spiky appearance, the vibrant purple flowers of the Musk Thistle can symbolize attraction and the beauty that draws in both admiration and curiosity.

Every 1-2 weeks
2500 - 10000 Lux
Not applicable
Spring to early summer
Not needed
  • water dropWater

    The Musk thistle requires moderate watering and should be watered when the top inch of soil feels dry. Depending on the climate, this might mean providing approximately one inch (or about 0.623 gallons) of water weekly during the growing season. In particularly hot or windy conditions, more frequent watering may be necessary. Care should be taken to water at the base of the plant to avoid wetting the foliage, which could lead to disease. Drought tolerance is a characteristic of the Musk thistle, so it's better to err on the side of under-watering than over-watering.

  • sunLight

    Musk thistles thrive best in full sunlight conditions, receiving at least six hours of direct sunlight per day. The ideal spot for Musk thistle is an open area where it is exposed to uninterrupted sunlight throughout the day. If planted in too much shade, the plant may become leggy and fail to produce its characteristic blooms.

  • thermometerTemperature

    Musk thistle is a hardy plant that can survive in a temperature range from 20°F to 90°F, making it suitable for a variety of climates. However, the ideal temperature for optimal growth is between 60°F and 75°F. Musk thistle can be quite tolerant of temperature fluctuations outside of this range, but extended periods of extreme heat or cold may impact its growth and flowering.

  • scissorsPruning

    Pruning Musk thistle involves the removal of spent flowers to prevent self-seeding, as the plant is considered invasive in some areas. It is best to prune right after the flowers fade, typically in late summer or early fall. Regularly removing dead or damaged stems can also help maintain plant health and prevent the spread of disease.

  • broomCleaning

    Not needed

  • bambooSoil

    The Musk Thistle, or Carduus nutans, thrives best in a well-draining soil that is moderately fertile. A suitable soil mix could consist of garden soil, peat, and sand in equal parts to ensure adequate drainage; aim for a pH of around 6.0 to 7.5. Avoid soils that are too rich or retain moisture excessively, as they may promote root rot.

  • plantRepotting

    Musk Thistles, known as Carduus nutans, are biennial and typically do not require repotting as they are often grown as wildflowers and may self-seed. However, if grown in containers, repotting may be done every spring to provide fresh soil and accommodate growth.

  • water dropsHumidity & Misting

    Musk Thistle, or Carduus nutans, is tolerant of a wide range of humidity conditions and does not have specific humidity requirements. It can grow in both dry and humid climates as long as the soil moisture is adequate but not excessive.

  • pinSuitable locations

    • Indoor

      Provide full sun and well-draining soil for Musk Thistle indoors.

    • Outdoor

      Plant Musk Thistle outdoors in full sun and well-draining soil.

    • Hardiness zone

      3-7 USDA

  • circleLife cycle

    Musk thistle (Carduus nutans) begins its life cycle as a seed that germinates in the late summer or fall. The seedlings overwinter and develop into a rosette, staying close to the ground with a cluster of leaves. During the second year, the plant bolts, growing a tall stem and producing flower heads that are usually pink or purple. These flower heads bloom in late spring to early summer, attracting pollinators for fertilization. After pollination, the plant sets seeds, which are dispersed by wind, completing the reproductive cycle. The musk thistle is a biennial plant, meaning it typically completes its life cycle in two years, after which the individual plant dies.

  • sproutPropogation

    • Propogation time

      Spring to early summer

    • Propogation: The most common name for Carduus nutans is Musk Thistle. The most popular method of propagation for Musk Thistle is through its seeds. Ideally, the best time to sow Musk Thistle seeds is in late summer or early fall to allow for natural stratification during the colder months. However, seeding can also be done in the spring. To propagate, one should scatter the seeds on a well-prepared soil bed, either in a nursery area or in the desired growing spot. The seeds require light for germination, so they should not be buried deeply; a light covering of soil or simply pressing them into the soil surface is sufficient. The site should be kept moist but not waterlogged to encourage germination and growth. Once seedlings emerge and grow large enough to handle, they can be thinned or transplanted if necessary.