Creeping thistle

Creeping Thistle

©Philip Precey 

Creeping thistle

Scientific name: Cirsium arvense
Despite being considered a 'weed' of cultivated ground, the seeds of the Creeping thistle provide an important food source for farmland birds, many of which are declining rapidly.

Species information


Height: up to 1.2m

Conservation status


When to see

June to October


The Creeping thistle is our most common species of thistle and can be found on disturbed and cultivated ground, such as rough grassland, roadside verges and field edges from June to October. Its creeping roots enable it to quickly spread across an area, forming large colonies. As with other thistles, it can become a nuisance on agricultural land and these species are often considered to be weeds. Despite this status, its seeds are an important food source for a variety of farmland birds.

How to identify

The Creeping thistle has flower heads with lilac-pink florets (tiny flowers) on top of a small cylinder of spiny bracts (leaf-like structures). Its leaves are divided and spiny, and its stems do not have wings. Like most thistles, it produces masses of fluffy, wind-borne seeds in late summer.



Did you know?

Historically, thistles have been used as human food: the young shoots were stripped of their spines and added to salads, and the hearts of the flower heads were used like artichokes.

How people can help

Our gardens are a vital resource for wildlife, providing corridors of green space between open countryside, allowing species to move about. In fact, the UK's gardens provide more space for nature than all the National Nature Reserves put together. So why not try leaving wilder areas in your garden, such as patches of buttercups in your lawn or nettles near your compost heap, to see who comes to visit? To find out more about encouraging wildlife into your garden, visit our Wild About Gardens website: a joint initiative with the RHS, there's plenty of facts and tips to get you started.