Melancholy Thistle

Cirsium heterophyllum

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  3. Melancholy Thistle


The Melancholy Thistle is a plant of upland pastures in the north of Britain, where it can be found in high summer in unimproved upland hay meadows, open woodlands, along streamsides and along roadside verges. It has a distinctive, usually solitary purple-red thistle-like head that initially droops.

How to identify

Tall solitary flowerheads of red-purple florets (tiny flowers) surrounded by oval short- pointed purple-tinged bracts (leaf-like structures). The plant has no spines and its leaves are densely white-felted underneath.

Where to find it

Grows mainly in the north of Britain in upland areas of Scotland, Northern England and North Wales.


When to find it

  • July
  • August

How can people help

Throughout the whole country there has been a dramatic decline in wildflower meadows as a result of the intensification of agriculture since the 1950s. However, there are still pockets of the country where hay meadows are more common because the type of land and the regional climate, dictate the use of older farming practices. In addition, roadside verges near fields that have been converted to lush grasslands often act as a reservoir of meadow flower species. The Wildlife Trusts look after many meadow habitats using traditional methods, such as hay-cutting, reseeding and grazing, for the benefit of local wildlife. We are also working closely with farmers and landowners to promote wildlife-friendly practices in these areas. You can help too: volunteer for your local Wildlife Trust and you could be involved in everything from stockwatching to surveying meadow flowers.

Species information

Common name
Melancholy Thistle
Latin name
Cirsium heterophyllum
Height 45 -120cm tall