Cirsium altissimum (L.) Spreng.

tall thistle

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New England Distribution

Adapted from BONAP data

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North America Distribution

Adapted from BONAP data

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Facts About

A native biennial of the United States, the natural range of tall thistle probably does not extend to New England. The Cherokee used the down to make the tails of blow darts, and an infusion of the roots to treat overeating.

Habitat

Anthropogenic (man-made or disturbed habitats), meadows and fields

Characteristics

Habitat
terrestrial
New England state
  • Connecticut
  • Massachusetts
  • Vermont
Leaf type
leaves are simple (i.e., lobed or unlobed but not separated into leaflets)
Leaf arrangement
alternate: there is one leaf per node along the stem
Leaf blade edges
  • the edge of the leaf blade has lobes, or it has both teeth and lobes
  • the edge of the leaf blade has no teeth or lobes
Flower type in flower heads
the flower head has disk flowers only, and lacks the strap-shaped flowers
Tuft or plume on fruit
at least a part of the plume is made up of fine bristles
Spines on plant
there are spines on the plant
Leaf blade length
100–400 mm
Disk flower number
  • 21-50
  • more than 50
Show All Characteristics
  • Flowers
    Bract cycle number
    there are three or more cycles of bracts
    Bract margins
    there are few or no fine hairs along the bract margins
    Bract outer side hair type
    the bracts are hairy on their outer surfaces, with hairs having glands (a swelling at the tip of the hair)
    Bract outer side hairs
    • the bracts are hairy on their outer surfaces
    • the bracts are not hairy on their outer surfaces
    Disk flower number
    • 21-50
    • more than 50
    Flower head platform
    the base has fine, short hairs on it
    Flower type in flower heads
    the flower head has disk flowers only, and lacks the strap-shaped flowers
    Height of flower head base
    20–50 mm
    Ovary attachment
    the ovary is attached at or near the base
    Ovary cross-section
    the ovary is compressed (flattened)
    Ovary hair type
    the ovary has no hairs on it
    Ovary hairs
    the ovary has no hairs on it
    Ovary profile
    • in profile, the ovary is oblong (roughly rectangular but rounded at the ends)
    • in profile, the ovary is roughly egg-shaped, but widest above the middle
    Ovary surface
    the ovary surface has no points, bumps or wrinkles, though it may have lines, ribs or wings
    Ray flowers
    0
    Reproductive system
    • all the flowers on some plants have carpels, while all the flowers on other plants have stamens
    • some of the flowers on the plant have only carpels or stamens, while others have both carpels and stamens
    Rim at top of ovary
    the central flowers have a disk-shaped platform above the ovary
    Smaller bracts at base of bracts
    there is a cycle of much smaller bracts outside the cycle of larger and longer bracts
  • Fruits or seeds
    Ovary length in developed fruit
    4–5.5 mm
    Top of disk flower ovary
    NA
    Tuft or plume on fruit
    at least a part of the plume is made up of fine bristles
  • Glands or sap
    Bract resin
    the bracts have resin or resin glands
    Leaf blade glands
    the leaf blades have no glandular (translucent) dots or scales
    Sap
    the sap is clear and watery
  • Growth form
    Growth form
    the plant has one or more free-standing stems
    Plant lifespan
    the plant is perennial, it shows evidence of previous year's leaves, stems or stem bases
    Spines on plant
    there are spines on the plant
    Underground organs
    • the plant has a rhizome (a horizontal underground stem with roots growing from it)
    • there are only slender roots on the plant
  • Leaves
    Hairs on underside of leaf blade
    the underside of the leaf is fuzzy or hairy
    Hairs on upper side of leaf blade
    the upper side of the leaf is not hairy, or has very few hairs
    Leaf arrangement
    alternate: there is one leaf per node along the stem
    Leaf blade base
    • the leaf has a distinct petiole
    • the leaf has no petiole
    Leaf blade base shape
    the base of the leaf blade is cuneate (wedge-shaped, tapers to the base with relatively straight, converging edges), or narrow
    Leaf blade edges
    • the edge of the leaf blade has lobes, or it has both teeth and lobes
    • the edge of the leaf blade has no teeth or lobes
    Leaf blade hairs
    the leaf blade has tangled or woolly-looking hairs
    Leaf blade length
    100–400 mm
    Leaf blade shape
    • the leaf blade is elliptic (widest near the middle and tapering at both ends)
    • the leaf blade is oblanceolate (lance-shaped, but with the widest point above the middle of the leaf blade)
    • the leaf blade is ovate (widest below the middle and broadly tapering at both ends)
    Leaf blade veins
    the leaf blade has one main vein running from the base towards the tip
    Leaf blade width
    10–60 mm
    Leaf disposition
    the leaves are nearly similar in size, prominence of teeth, and length of stalks throughout the stem
    Leaf spines
    there are spines along the leaf edges
    Leaf stalk
    • the leaves have leaf stalks
    • the leaves have no leaf stalks, but attach directly to the stem
    Leaf tip extension
    NA
    Leaf type
    leaves are simple (i.e., lobed or unlobed but not separated into leaflets)
    Specific leaf type
    the leaf has a row of two or more lobes on each side of the central axis
  • Place
    Habitat
    terrestrial
    New England state
    • Connecticut
    • Massachusetts
    • Vermont
    Specific habitat
    • man-made or disturbed habitats
    • meadows or fields
  • Stem, shoot, branch
    Leaves on stem
    there is at least one full leaf above the base of the flowering stem
    Stem internode hair direction
    the hairs are pressed flat against the plant, pointing either towards the plant's tip or towards it's base
    Stem internode hair type
    • at least some of the hairs on the stem have glands
    • the stem has no hairs between the nodes
    Stem internode hairs
    • the stem has hairs between the nodes
    • the stem has no hairs between the nodes

Wetland Status

Not classified

New England Distribution and Conservation Status

Distribution

Connecticut
present
Maine
absent
Massachusetts
present
New Hampshire
absent
Rhode Island
absent
Vermont
present

Conservation Status

Exact status definitions can vary from state to state. For details, please check with your state.

Massachusetts
unranked (S-rank: SNR)
Vermont
extremely rare (S-rank: S1)

Native to North America?

Yes and no (some introduced)

Sometimes Confused With

Cirsium flodmanii:
leaf blades usually thinly tomentose on the adaxial surface, stem uniforny and persistently tomentose, and pappus bristles 20-30 mm long (vs. C. altissimum, with leaf blades glabrate or sparsely villous on the adaxial surface, stems glabrate or with some tomentum near the apex, and pappus bristles 12-24 mm long).
Cirsium discolor:
stem leaf blades with revolute margins and evident narrow lobes, and tips of innermost involucral bracts slender, not dilated, and entire (vs. C. astissimum, with stem leaf blades with flat margins, unlobed or with short lobes, and tips of innermost involucral bracts dilated and erose to serrulate).

Synonyms

  • Carduus altissimus L.

Family

Asteraceae

Genus

Cirsium

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Information from Dichotomous Key of Flora Novae Angliae

1.  Cirsium altissimum (L.) Spreng. E

tall thistle. Carduus altissimus L. • CT, MA, VT. Fields, roadsides, disturbed soil.