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Montana Field Guides

Bull Thistle - Cirsium vulgare
Other Names:  Spear Thistle

Non-native Species

Global Rank: GNR
State Rank: SNA

Agency Status
USFWS:
USFS:
BLM:
MNPS Threat Rank:
C-value: 0

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General Description
Taprooted biennial. Stems erect, often branched, 30–120 cm. Herbage green, spreading-hirsute to sparsely arachnoid. Leaves short-petiolate; blades lanceolate to obovate, 5–30 cm long, deeply pinnately lobed with prominent whitish veins beneath. Inflorescence heads mostly solitary at stem tips, forming open corymbiform arrays; peduncles 1–8 cm long. Involucres campanulate, 25–40 mm high, sparsely arachnoid; phyllaries imbricate in 10 to 12 series, green, linear-lanceolate; outer keeled but not resinous with an erect or spreading spine-tip 2–10 mm long; inner linear, acuminate. Disk corollas purple, 2–3 cm long. Achenes 3–5 mm long (Lesica 2012. Manual of Montana Vascular Plants. BRIT Press. Fort Worth, TX).

Diagnostic Characteristics
On first-glance thistles can look similar, but upon closer inspection differences become apparent.
Thistles belong to the genera of Cirsium, Carduus, and Onopordum. They are separated by:

Cirsium
* Feathery (plumose) pappus, which have fine, long hairs on each side of the main bristle.
* Receptacle of flower head has bristles. Look between florets within a flower head to find them.

Carduus
* Capillary pappus, which are minutely barbed, narrow bristles.
* Receptacle of flower head has bristles. Look between florets within a flower head to find them.

Onopordum
* Receptacle of flower head has no bristles. Look between florets within a flower head to find nothing.
* Entire lengths of stems have spiny wings.
* Foliage is silvery gray.

Native versus Exotic (Source: Parkinson and Mangold 2015)
* Native thistles tend to have involucral bracts adhere to the flower head for most of their length (except for the spine).
* Native thistles tend to grow scattered across a habitat, spreading slowly with disturbance, and contribute to plant diversity.
* Exotic thistles grow quickly with disturbance, form dense patches that interfere with access, and through competition often reduces plant diversity.

Montana has 12 species of Cirsium, and only 5 are described below.

Bull ThistleCirsium vulgare, exotic and undesirable
* Flower heads are mostly single at stem tips and arranged in an open inflorescence.
* Flower heads have involucres more than 2 cm tall [examine larger heads].
* On the flower head the outer bracts tend to point outwards and upwards, are needle-like and long.
* Leaves are deeply lobed, green beneath with cobwebby hairs and obvious white veins.
* Leaves have many sharp, short spines. Entire plant has spines, some very long, making it difficult to touch without injury.
* Plants are taprooted.

Canada Thistle - Cirsium arvense, exotic and Noxious
* Flower heads have involucres less than 2 cm tall [examine larger heads].
* Each flower head consists of either male florets or female florets.
* Leaves are arachnoid-villous, but the green leaf remains visible.
* Stems lack an obvious winged stem.
* Plants are strongly rhizomatous.

Scotch ThistleOnopordum acanthium, exotic and undesirable
* Receptacle of flower head has no bristles.
* Entire lengths of stems have spiny wings, becoming broad and spiny.
* Foliage is silvery gray and can grow taller than 6 feet.

Musk Thistle - Carduus nutans, exotic and undesirable
* Flower heads have involucral bracts that are broadly triangular, have smooth margins, and a short spine-tip.
* Heads nod as flowers mature.

Wavyleaf Thistle - Cirsium undulatum, native and desirable
* Upper leaf surface lacks spines AND white-tomentose hairs making it appear gray.
* Involucral bracts tend to point upwards with inner bracts acuminate.
* Flower heads have involucres more than 2 cm tall [examine larger heads].
* Most flower heads not clustered and peduncles more than 2 cm long.

Flodman’s Thistle - Cirsium flodmanii, native and desirable
* Upper leaf surface lacks spines AND has sparse white-tomentose hairs making it appear green.
* Involucral bracts tend to point upwards with inner bracts acuminate.
* Flower heads have involucres more than 2 cm tall [examine larger heads].
* Most flower heads are not clustered and some peduncles are more than 2 cm long.

Long-styled Thistle - Cirsium longistylum, native, Montana endemic, and SOC
* Upper leaf surface lacks spines.
* Inner and outer bracts are wide, scarious, and with erose tips AND outer bracts have a raised, darkened, and resinous keel.
* Flower heads have involucres more than 2 cm tall [examine larger heads].

Species Range
Montana Range

Non-native
 


Range Comments
Introduced throughout North America; native to Eurasia (Lesica 2012. Manual of Montana Vascular Plants. BRIT Press. Fort Worth, TX).

Observations in Montana Natural Heritage Program Database
Number of Observations: 5387

(Click on the following maps and charts to see full sized version) Map Help and Descriptions
Relative Density

Recency

 

(Observations spanning multiple months or years are excluded from time charts)



Habitat
Disturbed meadows, thickets, roadsides; plains, valleys, montane (Lesica 2012. Manual of Montana Vascular Plants. BRIT Press. Fort Worth, TX).

Ecology
POLLINATORS
The following animal species have been reported as pollinators of this plant species or its genus where their geographic ranges overlap: Bombus vagans, Bombus appositus, Bombus auricomus, Bombus bifarius, Bombus borealis, Bombus centralis, Bombus fervidus, Bombus flavifrons, Bombus frigidus, Bombus huntii, Bombus mixtus, Bombus nevadensis, Bombus rufocinctus, Bombus sylvicola, Bombus ternarius, Bombus terricola, Bombus sitkensis, Bombus occidentalis, Bombus pensylvanicus, Bombus bimaculatus, Bombus griseocollis, Bombus impatiens, Bombus insularis, Bombus suckleyi, Bombus bohemicus, and Bombus flavidus (Thorp et al. 1983, Mayer et al. 2000, Wilson et al. 2010, Colla and Dumesh 2010, Colla et al. 2011, Koch et al. 2012, Williams et al. 2014, Tripoldi and Szalanski 2015).

Management

References
  • Literature Cited AboveLegend:   View Online Publication
    • Colla, S., L. Richardson, and P. Williams. 2011. Bumble bees of the eastern United States. Washington, DC: USDA Forest Service, Pollinator Partnership. 103 p.
    • Colla, S.R. and S. Dumesh. 2010. The bumble bees of southern Ontario: notes on natural history and distribution. Journal of the Entomological Society of Ontario 141: 39-68.
    • Great Plains Flora Association (McGregor, R.L., coordinator, and T.M. Barkley, R.E. Brooks, and E.K. Schofield - eds.). 1986. Flora of the Great Plains. Lawrence, KS: Univ. Press Kansas. 1392 pp.
    • Koch, J., J. Strange, and P. Williams. 2012. Bumble bees of the western United States. Washington, DC: USDA Forest Service, Pollinator Partnership. 143 p.
    • Lesica, P., M.T. Lavin, and P.F. Stickney. 2012. Manual of Montana Vascular Plants. Fort Worth, TX: BRIT Press. viii + 771 p.
    • Mayer, D.F., E.R. Miliczky, B.F. Finnigan, and C.A. Johnson. 2000. The bee fauna (Hymenoptera: Apoidea) of southeastern Washington. Journal of the Entomological Society of British Columbia 97: 25-31.
    • Parkinson, Hilary and Jane Mangold. 2015. Guide to Exotic Thistles of Montana and How to Differentiate from Native Thistles. EB0221. Montana State University Extension, Bozeman, Montana.
    • Thorp, R.W., D.S. Horning, and L.L. Dunning. 1983. Bumble bees and cuckoo bumble bees of California (Hymenoptera: Apidae). Bulletin of the California Insect Survey 23:1-79.
    • Tripoldi, A.D. and A.L. Szalanski. 2015. The bumble bees (Hymenoptera: Apidae: Bombus) of Arkansas, fifty years later. Journal of Melittology 50: doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.17161/jom.v0i50.4834
    • Williams, P., R. Thorp, L. Richardson, and S. Colla. 2014. Bumble Bees of North America. Princeton, NJ. Princeton University Press.
    • Wilson, J.S., L.E. Wilson, L.D. Loftis, and T. Griswold. 2010. The montane bee fauna of north central Washington, USA, with floral associations. Western North American Naturalist 70(2): 198-207.
  • Additional ReferencesLegend:   View Online Publication
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    • Ament, R.J. 1995. Pioneer Plant Communities Five Years After the 1988 Yellowstone Fires. M.Sc. Thesis. Bozeman, MT: Montana State University. 216 p.
    • Corr, D.R. 1988. Effects of stress inducing factors on musk thistle (Carduus nutans L,) including--grass competition, Rhinocyllus conicus Froel., terminal flower loss, and insecticides. M.Sc. Thesis. Bozeman, MT: Montana State University. 86 p.
    • Martinka, R.R. 1970. Structural characteristics and ecological relationships of male blue grouse (Dendragapus obscurus (Say)) territories in southwestern Montana. Ph.D Dissertation. Bozeman, MT: Montana State University. 73 p.
    • Matlock-Cooley, S.J. 1993. Interaction between Deermice, Antelope Bitterbrush, and cattle in southwest Montana. M.Sc. Thesis. Bozeman, MT: Montana State University 84 p.
    • Seipel, T.F. 2006. Plant species diversity in the sagebrush steppe of Montana. M.Sc. Thesis. Bozeman, MT: Montana State University. 87 p.
    • Simanonok, M. 2018. Plant-pollinator network assembly after wildfire. Ph.D. Dissertation. Bozeman, MT: Montana State University. 123 p.
    • Tuinstra, K. E. 1967. Vegetation of the floodplains and first terraces of Rock Creek near Red Lodge, Montana. Ph.D dissertation. Montana State University, Bozeman 110 pp.
  • Web Search Engines for Articles on "Bull Thistle"
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Citation for data on this website:
Bull Thistle — Cirsium vulgare.  Montana Field Guide.  .  Retrieved on , from