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Onopordum acanthium - L.

Common Name Scotch Thistle, Scotch cottonthistle
Family Asteraceae or Compositae
USDA hardiness 5-9
Known Hazards None known
Habitats Waste places and arable land, especially on chalky and sandy soils, avoiding shade[4, 9]. Also found on slightly acid soils[200].
Range Europe, possibly including Britain, from Scandanavia south and east to Spain and W. Asia.
Edibility Rating    (2 of 5)
Other Uses    (0 of 5)
Weed Potential Yes
Medicinal Rating    (1 of 5)
Care (info)
Fully Hardy Well drained soil Moist Soil Semi-shade Full sun
Onopordum acanthium Scotch Thistle, Scotch cottonthistle
Onopordum acanthium Scotch Thistle, Scotch cottonthistle


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Physical Characteristics

 icon of manicon of flower
Onopordum acanthium is a BIENNIAL growing to 1.5 m (5ft) by 1 m (3ft 3in) at a slow rate.
It is hardy to zone (UK) 6. It is in flower from July to September, and the seeds ripen from August to October. The species is hermaphrodite (has both male and female organs) and is pollinated by Bees. The plant is self-fertile.
It is noted for attracting wildlife.
Suitable for: light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils, prefers well-drained soil and can grow in nutritionally poor soil. Suitable pH: acid, neutral and basic (alkaline) soils. It can grow in semi-shade (light woodland) or no shade. It prefers dry or moist soil.

UK Hardiness Map US Hardiness Map



 Cultivated Beds;

Edible Uses

Edible Parts: Flowers  Leaves  Oil  Oil  Stem
Edible Uses: Colouring  Oil  Oil

Flower buds - cooked. A globe artichoke substitute[2, 4, 9, 115, 183], though they are much smaller and very fiddly to use[K]. Stems - cooked. Used as a vegetable, they are a cardoon (Cynara cardunculus) substitute[2, 4]. The stems are cooked in water like asparagus or rhubarb[12]. They are best if the rind is removed[4, 115, 183]. Leaves and young plants - cooked[9, 105]. They are harvested before the flowers develop and the prickles must be removed prior to cooking[9]. The petals are an adulterant for saffron[46, 61, 105, 183], used as a yellow food colouring and flavouring. A good quality edible oil is obtained from the seed[2, 4, 183]. The seed contains about 25% oil[4].


Medicinal Uses

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Astringent  Cancer  Cardiotonic

The flowering plant is cardiotonic[9]. It is used in some proprietary heart medicines[9]. The juice of the plant has been used with good effect in the treatment of cancers and ulcers[4]. A decoction of the root is astringent[4]. It is used to diminish discharges from mucous membranes[4].


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Other Uses

Oil  Oil  Stuffing

The stem hairs are sometimes collected and used to stuff pillows[4]. An oil obtained from the seed is used as a fuel for lamps[4].

Special Uses

Attracts Wildlife


Cultivation details

An easily grown plant, it succeeds in almost any ordinary garden soil[1, 111]. Requires a well-drained soil, preferably in full sun though it tolerates light shade[200]. Prefers a slightly alkaline soil[200]. Grows very well in poor soils, succeeding in hot dry situations and tolerating drought when it is established[190]. A slow-growing plant[188]. Hardy to about -15°c[200]. A very ornamental plant[1], the flowers are very attractive to bees[200]. Plants are prone to slug and snail damage[188]. Often self-sows, sometimes to the point of nuisance, though the seedlings can easily be hoed out and can also be transplanted if they are moved whilst still small[200].


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Seed - sow spring in situ[200]. The seed can also be sown in situ in autumn[200]. If the seed is in short supply then it can be sown in a pot in the greenhouse in the spring. Prick out the seedlings into individual pots as soon as they are large enough to handle and plant them out into their permanent positions in early summer.

Other Names

If available other names are mentioned here

Found In

Countries where the plant has been found are listed here if the information is available

Weed Potential

Right plant wrong place. We are currently updating this section. Please note that a plant may be invasive in one area but may not in your area so it’s worth checking.

Conservation Status

IUCN Red List of Threatened Plants Status :

Related Plants
Latin NameCommon NameHabitHeightHardinessGrowthSoilShadeMoistureEdibleMedicinalOther
Onopordum illyricumCotton Thistle, Illyrian cottonthistleBiennial1.3 6-9  LMHSNM100

Growth: S = slow M = medium F = fast. Soil: L = light (sandy) M = medium H = heavy (clay). pH: A = acid N = neutral B = basic (alkaline). Shade: F = full shade S = semi-shade N = no shade. Moisture: D = dry M = Moist We = wet Wa = water.


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