Musk Thistle

Carduus nutans

Musk Thistle

Family: Asteraceae

Other Common Names: nodding thistle
Weed class: B
Year Listed: 1988
Native to: Europe and Asia
Is this Weed Toxic?:

not known to be


Legal listings:

WA Quarantine list, WAC 16-750

Why Is It a Noxious Weed?

It invades pastures and fields, crowding out desirable forage plants. Livestock will not graze in areas heavily infested with must thistle, thus decreasing available pasture. It hinders stream bank access, and is problematic in grain fields.

How would I identify it?

General Description

Musk thistle is typically a biennial though may be a winter annual. It can grow up to 7 feet tall.

Flower Description

Flowerheads mostly solitary and large, up to 3.1 inches across and nodding. Bracts under flowerheads are broad, some reflexed with a spiny tip. Each plant can have 50 to 100 flower heads.

Leaf description

Leaves are alternate, deeply lobed, spiny and may have some hairs on the underside leaf veins.

Stem description

Stems have spiny wings.

Fruit Seed Description

Seeds (achenes) are smooth and hairless.

Where does it grow?

Musk thistle grows in pastures, rangeland, native meadows, roadsides, forests, stream banks, and occasionally grain fields. Please click hereto see a county level distribution map of musk thistle in Washington.

How Does it Reproduce?

Musk thistle reproduces by seed.

How Do I Control It?

General Control Strategy

Establishing a dense, well-maintained pasture is effective in preventing a musk thistle infestation.

Mechanical Control

Musk thistle can be dug or grubbed out.

Cultural Control

Cultivation in cropland will kill young musk thistle seedlings.

Biological Control

A seed eating weevil, Rhinocyllus conicus, is quite effective in reducing seed output.

Herbicide Control

Please refer to the PNW Weed Management Handbook, or contact your county noxious weed coordinator.

For More Information

See our Written Findings for more information about musk thistle (Carduus nutans).

Stevens County NWCB Fact Sheet on musk thistle

Lincoln County NWCB Fact Sheet on musk thistle

Additional Photos