Cirsium vulgare 1 Cirsium vulgare 2
Cirsium vulgare 3

Greetings to all our Village plant enthusiasts.  After some time out due to the recent MTB Cycle Series race through Clarens this past weekend, the CVC can now breathe a sigh of relief…and continue producing interesting articles. This week we’re going off on a slightly fresher tangent – we’ll be focusing on an exotic member of the Asteraceae (Daizy) family.

Cirsium vulgare (Scotch Thistle in English, Skotsedissel in Afrikaans) is considered a naturalised exotic in S.A. This group are Alien & Invasive Plants (A&IP’s) that have occurred within our country for a long enough period of time, measured in decades, to be deemed “natural” (though not to say beneficial, and more likely detrimental to local ecosystems). C. vulgare occurs naturally in parts of Africa and Asia, New Zealand, Australia, USA, Canada, South America, Hawaii and the Pacific islands, but is classified as a Category 1 weed.

Many of you will have recognised this striking purple flower from disturbed areas including roadsides, old farmlands, along riparian zones and urban fringes. Make no mistake though – once those spiny leaves make contact with your skin you’ll be itching and scratching for the rest of the day. A&IP’s such as this species rely on wind and avian dispersal and through some feed-stocks to spread into new areas.

The leaves of C. vulgare (are pretty vulgare when catching one’s bare skin) are 70-300 mm long, roughly lance-shaped with spine-like margins and covered in fine hairs. The stems extend up to 2 m on average, spreading from the base into a mess of dense, multi-stemmed and near impenetrable foliage. Flowers develop at the apex of the plant, flowering takes place in late summer to early autumn (Feb-Apr). The purple flower heads typically measure 40-50 mm in diameter by 25-50 mm wide, complete with narrow, spine-tipped bracts. The wind-dispersed fruits have several bristles on the tip and are up to 5 mm long. Uses:

Traditional uses

The seed fluff makes excellent tinder that is easily lit by a spark from a flint and the petals have been used as chewing gum/tobacco alternative. The oil from these seeds has reportedly been extracted for use in cooking and in lamps for lighting.

Ecological Threat

The fluffy-white seed of C. vulgare are highly viable and once introduced spreads rapidly if not swiftly controlled. This is one of several species that the CVC actively strives to eradicate and is most simply done through uprooting using a spade, cutting off of the flower-heads, placing them into a bag and burning in an enclosed chamber (or in an area with no wind). The spiny form of this species renders it unpalatable to both wildlife and livestock. If left unchecked, this species encloses old farmlands and grazed grassveld areas, leaving the land largely fallow and vulnerable to erosion and subsequently, degradation.

Conservation Status

The SANBI conservation status for C. vulgare is listed as Not Defined.


Click here for more information on plants in the Clarens Village Nature Reserve

Click here for more information on the Clarens Village Nature Reserve


Damien1-100x100Article and photography by Damien Coulson

Head ranger: Clarens Village Nature Reserve


Author: Damien Coulson