Woolly Thistle

©Bruce Shortland

Woolly thistle

Scientific name: Cirsium eriophorum
Look for the round, cottony, purple flower heads of the Woolly thistle on chalk and limestone grasslands in summer. It is mainly found in Southern England.

Species information


Height: up to 1.5m

Conservation status


When to see

July to September


The Woolly thistle is a scarcer species of thistle that can be found on chalk and limestone scrub and grassland, especially in Central and Southern England; sometimes it can also be found on more disturbed ground, such as old quarries. Its cottony flower heads are distinctively round and appear from July to September. As with the other thistles, it is attractive to a wide range of insects.

How to identify

The globular, woolly flower heads of the Woolly thistle are unmistakeable. The flower head comprises reddish-purple florets (tiny flowers) on top of spiny bracts (leaf-like structures) that are covered in white wool. The stems do not have wings and the leaves are divided with spiny lobes.


Mainly found in Central and Southern England.

Did you know?

Although we might think of thistles as weeds, they can make a great addition to a wildlife garden, attracting butterflies, day-flying moths and bumblebees. Why not try planting some in a wilder area in your garden and see who comes to visit?

How people can help

The Wildlife Trusts manage many grassland habitats sympathetically for the benefit of all kinds of wildlife. Careful grazing with traditional breeds, hay-cutting at the right time and scrub clearance are just some of the ways grasslands are kept in good condition. By volunteering for your local Trust you can help too, and you'll make new friends and learn new skills along the way.