Tag Archives: noxious weed

Musk Thistle, Beautiful Weed

People have shipped goods across the oceans for hundreds of years. Most of the goods shipped are wanted. A few like musk thistle are stowaways.

A few thistle seeds arrived in the United States in the mid-1800’s. Like most thistles, musk or nodding thistle took full advantage of the opportunity. Missouri joined many other states in 1909 declaring it a noxious weed.

musk thistle plant

Although stout the musk thistle stem is thin, only a half inch across. This lets the flowers bob in the breezes. Don’t grab hold as the stems are lined with long sharp spines.

My wildflower guidebook has a picture of a musk thistle but it definitely doesn’t do this flower justice. I noticed one along the highway because of its deep rose purple color.

The plant is about four feet tall and has several stalks tipped with these gorgeous flowers. Since I had never seen it before, I stopped to take pictures and admire it.

Missouri does have several native thistles. They are pink and showy but don’t have that show stopping color of a musk thistle.

musk thistle flower

The rich red purple color of the musk thistle flower head is also in the bracts behind it. The color is vivid.

All thistle flowers are really tightly packed bundles of tube flowers. Insects love them for their rich supply of nectar. They tromp over each flower head probing each tube flower and spreading pollen.

After a day or two, the numerous flowers get busy making seeds. Each seed is topped with white downy threads. The threads catch the wind letting the seeds drift off to new areas to colonize.

musk thistle flower bud

Even the bracts on the musk thistle flower bud are tipped with sharp spines.

Therein lies the problem with musk thistle. Each plant can produce up to ten thousand seeds. Many of these seeds will find a place to grow.

Nothing much wants to eat musk or nodding thistle because it is lined stem and leaves with long sharp spines. It is a leafy cactus.

musk thistle stem

The sharp spines on the musk thistle stems and leaves keep livestock from eating it and make it unwelcome in hay.

I went back to this musk thistle along the highway. That first flower was already making seeds. I took more pictures then cut it down. Since I know the people living in the house there, I let them know so they will keep it cut down.

For myself, if I had a flower garden, I would be sorely tempted to grow one or two of these thistles for their beauty. The important thing would be to keep any seeds from forming.

Luckily I don’t have a flower garden. I am glad to have had the opportunity to see this thistle. If you find one, admire it. But cut it down. They are a rancher’s nightmare once established in a field.