The Woolly Thistle is a scarcer species of thistle that can be found on chalk and limestone scrub and grassland, especially in central and southern England; sometimes it can also be found on more disturbed ground such as quarries. Its cottony flower heads are distinctively round and appear from July to September. As with the other thistles, it is attractive to a wide range of insects.
How to identify
The globular, woolly flower heads of the Woolly Thistle are unmistakeable. The flower head comprises reddish-purple florets (tiny flowers) on top of spiny bracts (leaf-like structures) which are covered in white wool. The stems don't have wings and the leaves are divided with spiny lobes.
Where to find it
Predominantly grows in central and southern England.
When to find it
How can people help
Areas of rare and unique wildlife, chalk grasslands have been likened to rainforest for the diversity of species they hold. But they are being lost at an alarming rate due to changes in land use causing the decline of grazing: it's estimated that we've lost 80% of our chalk grassland over the last 60 years. The Wildlife Trusts manage many grassland nature reserves for the benefit of the rare wildlife they hold by using traditional management methods such as autumn grazing and scrub clearance. You can help too: volunteer for your local Wildlife Trust and you could be involved in everything from flower surveys to stockwatching.