Overview

Comprehensive Description

Description

This native wildflower is a biennial or short-lived perennial. During the 1st year, it consists of a low rosette of leaves spanning about 1' across. During the 2nd year and thereafter, it develops stems with alternate leaves and becomes about 3-8' tall. These stems are usually sparingly branched. The central stem and side stems are light green to reddish brown, terete with several longitudinal ridges, and pubescent-woolly. The alternate leaves are up to 9" long and 3" across, becoming gradually smaller as they ascend the stems. These leaves are lanceolate, oblanceolate, or elliptic in shape; their margins are entire, slightly dentate, or shallowly lobed. At the pointed tip of each lobe or dentate tooth, there is usually a spine. The upper surface of each leaf is green with appressed white hairs, while the lower surface is covered with a dense mat of white-woolly hairs. The base of each leaf is sessile or clasps its stem slightly. The basal leaves of 1st year plants are similar to the alternate leaves, except they are often more deeply pinnatifid. The upper stems terminate in individual flowerheads spanning about 2" across. Each flowerhead has a multitude of small disk florets that are pink to purplish pink. Each floret has a tubular corolla that divides into 5 slender lobes. The base of the flowerhead is surrounded by numerous floral scales (phyllaries) that partially overlap each other. Each small floral scale is lanceolate-ovate and dark green with a white midrib; it has a dark tip, where a fine spine projects outward. Underneath each flowerhead, there are 2-3 small leafy bracts with spines along their margins like the leaves. The blooming period occurs from late summer to early fall and lasts about 1–1½ months. The flowerheads are usually fragrant. After the blooming period, the entire plant begins to wither away and turns yellow to brown. The disk florets of the flowerheads become masses of bullet-shaped achenes with tufts of cottony white hairs. These achenes are distributed by the wind. The root system consists of a taproot. This wildflower spreads by reseeding itself.
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Comments

As the common name suggests, this thistle can become quite tall. It resembles Cirsium discolor (Pasture Thistle) and other common thistles, except that its leaves are less pinnatifid and spiny. The native Pasture Thistle prefers habitats that are more dry and sunny, but it is also sometimes found in wooded habitats. An aggressive Eurasian species, Cirsium vulgare (Bull Thistle), also prefers habitats that are more dry and sunny; it is even more heavily armed with spines than the Pasture Thistle. Unlike the Tall Thistle and Pasture Thistle, the Bull Thistle has leaf undersides that are more green because they are less densely hairy. The leaf undersides of the preceding native thistles are bright white because they have dense mats of white-woolly hairs. All of these tall-growing thistles are in bloom at about the same time of year and their erect flowerheads are pink to purplish pink.
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Distribution

National Distribution

United States

Origin: Native

Regularity: Regularly occurring

Currently: Present

Confidence: Confident

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Localities documented in Tropicos sources

Carduus altissimus L.:
United States (North America)

Note: This information is based on publications available through Tropicos and may not represent the entire distribution. Tropicos does not categorize distributions as native or non-native.
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Localities documented in Tropicos sources

Cirsium altissimum fo. altissimum :
United States (North America)

Note: This information is based on publications available through Tropicos and may not represent the entire distribution. Tropicos does not categorize distributions as native or non-native.
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Localities documented in Tropicos sources

Cirsium altissimum (L.) Spreng.:
United States (North America)

Note: This information is based on publications available through Tropicos and may not represent the entire distribution. Tropicos does not categorize distributions as native or non-native.
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Physical Description

Morphology

Description

Biennials or short-lived monocarpic perennials, (50–)100–300(–400) cm; taproots and often a cluster of coarse fibrous roots, roots without tuberlike enlargements. Stems single, erect, villous with septate trichomes, sometimes ± glabrate, sometimes distally thinly tomentose; branches few–many, ascending. Leaves: blades oblanceolate to elliptic or ovate, 10–40 × 1–13 cm, margins flat, finely spiny-toothed and otherwise undivided to coarsely toothed or shallowly pinnatifid, lobes broadly triangular, main spines 1–5 mm, abaxial faces white-tomentose, adaxial faces green, glabrate to villous with septate trichomes; basal usually absent at flowering, winged-petiolate, bases tapered; principal cauline well distributed, gradually reduced, bases narrowed, sometimes weakly clasping; distal cauline well developed. Heads 1–many, in corymbiform or paniculiform arrays, (± elevated above principal cauline leaves. , not subtended by ring of spiny bracts. Peduncles 0–5 cm (leafy-bracted. . Involucres ovoid to broadly cylindric or campanulate, (2–)2.5–3.5(–4) × (1.5–)2–3(–4) cm, thinly arachnoid. Phyllaries in 10–20 series, strongly imbricate, greenish with subapical darker central zone, ovate (outer) to lanceolate (inner), abaxial faces with a narrow glutinous ridge (milky when fresh, dark when dry), outer and middle entire, bodies appressed, spines slender, abruptly spreading, 3–4 mm; apices of inner phyllaries spreading, narrow, flattened, entire, spines spreading, slender, 3–4 mm; apices of inner phyllaries spreading, narrow, flattened, ± dilated, ± erose or finely serrulate. Corollas pink to purple (white), 20–35 mm, tubes 10–16 mm, throats 5–12 mm, lobes 5–9 mm. Style tips 4–6 mm. Cypselae tan to dark brown, 4–5.5 mm, apical collars stramineous, 0.5–1 mm; pappi 12–24 mm. 2n = 18.
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Diagnostic Description

Synonym

Carduus altissimus Linnaeus, Sp. Pl. 2: 824. 1753; Cirsium altissimum var. biltmoreanum Petrak; C. iowense (Pammell) Fernald
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Type Information

Isotype for Cirsium altissimum var. biltmoreanum Petrak
Catalog Number: US 332351
Collection: Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of Natural History, Department of Botany
Verification Degree: Original publication and alleged type specimen examined
Preparation: Pressed specimen
Collector(s): ex herb. Biltmore
Year Collected: 1897
Locality: Borders of woods and in open grounds, Biltmore, North Carolina., North Carolina, United States, North America
  • Isotype: Petrak, F. 1917. Beih. Bot. Centralbl. 35 (Ab. 2): 401.
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Ecology

Associations

Flower-Visiting Insects of Tall Thistle in Illinois

Cirsium altissimum (Tall Thistle)
(bees collect pollen or suck nectar; flies and beetles feed on pollen; other insects suck nectar; some observations are from Robertson, otherwise they are from Graenicher and Macior as indicated below)

Bees (long-tongued)
Apidae (Apinae): Apis mellifera sn cp (Rb, Gr); Apidae (Bombini): Bombus affinis sn (Gr), Bombus auricomus sn cp (Rb, Gr), Bombus fernaldae sn (Mc), Bombus fraternus sn (Rb), Bombus griseocallis sn (Gr), Bombus impatiens sn cp (Rb), Bombus pensylvanica sn cp fq (Rb, Gr), Bombus vagans sn cp (Rb, Gr), Psithyrus variabilis sn (Rb, Gr); Anthophoridae (Ceratinini): Ceratina dupla dupla sn (Rb, Gr); Anthophoridae (Epeolini): Triepeolus donatus sn (Gr); Anthophoridae (Eucerini): Melissodes agilis sn (Rb), Melissodes desponsa sn cp fq olg (Rb, Gr), Melissodes trinodis sn (Gr), Svastra obliqua obliqua cp (Rb); Megachilidae (Coelioxini): Coelioxys rufitarsis rufitarsis sn (Gr); Megachilidae (Megachilini): Megachile latimanus sn cp (Gr); Megachilidae (Trypetini): Heriades leavitti sn cp np (Rb)

Bees (short-tongued)
Halictidae (Halictinae): Agapostemon virescens sn, Lasioglossum connexus cp np (Gr), Lasioglossum imitatus cp np (Rb, Gr), Lasioglossum pilosus pilosus cp np (Gr), Lasioglossum zephyrus cp np (Gr); Halictidae (Nomiinae): Nomia nortoni nortoni (MH)

Flies
Syrphidae: Eristalis tenax fp (Gr), Eupeodes volucris fp (Gr)

Butterflies
Nymphalidae: Danaus plexippus (Gr), Limenitis archippus (Rb, Gr), Speyeria aphrodite alcestis (Gr), Speyeria cybele (Rb, Gr), Speyeria idalis (Gr), Vanessa atalanta (Rb), Vanessa virginiensis (Gr); Pieridae: Pieris rapae (Gr); Papilionidae: Papilio cresphontes (Rb), Papilio glaucus (Rb, Gr), Papilio polyxenes asterias (Gr), Papilio troilus (Rb)

Skippers
Hesperiidae: Polites themistocles (Gr)

Moths
Sphingidae: Hemaris thysbe (Rb), Hyles lineata (Rb)

Beetles
Chrysomelidae: Diabrotica undecimpunctata fp (Gr); Scarabaeidae (Cetonniae): Trichiotinus piger fp (Gr)

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Faunal Associations

The nectar of the showy flowerheads attracts various long-tongued bees (honeybees, bumblebees, digger bees), butterflies, skippers, and Sphinx moths (including Hummingbird Clearwing moths). Long-tongued bees and smaller Halictid bees also collect pollen from the flowers. Goldfinches feed on thistle seeds and use the tufts of hair in the construction of their little nests. Various sparrows and the Slate-Colored Junco also eat thistle seeds occasionally. The caterpillars of the butterflies Vanessa cardui (Painted Lady) and Calephelis mutica (Swamp Metalmark) have been observed feeding on the foliage of Tall Thistle. The caterpillars of several moths also feed on Cirsium spp. (Thistles); see the Moth Table for a listing of these species. Other insects that feed on thistles include Oulema palustris (Leaf Beetle sp.), Cassida rubiginosa (Thistle Tortoise Beetle), Euphoria inda (Bumble Flower Beetle), and Melanoplus borealis borealis (Northern Grasshopper).
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Molecular Biology and Genetics

Molecular Biology

Statistics of barcoding coverage: Cirsium altissimum

Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLDS) Stats
Public Records: 0
Specimens with Barcodes: 4
Species With Barcodes: 1
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Conservation

Conservation Status

NatureServe Conservation Status

Rounded Global Status Rank: G5 - Secure

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National NatureServe Conservation Status

United States

Rounded National Status Rank: N5 - Secure

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Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems

Benefits

Cultivation

The preference is full sun to light shade, moist to mesic areas, and a fertile loam or clay-loam soil. Tall Thistle is more tolerant of shade than other thistles. The lower leaves may wither away prematurely at a dry sunny site. Range & Habitat
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Notes

Comments

Plants of Cirsium altissimum ranging from southern Minnesota to Texas often have more deeply divided leaves than do populations in other portions of the species’ range. Some botanists (e.g., R. J. Moore and C. Frankton 1969; D. S. Correll and M. C. Johnston 1970) have treated those plants as C. iowense. Others (e.g., R. E. Brooks 1986; H. A. Gleason and A. Cronquist 1991; G. B. Ownbey and T. Morley 1991) have treated them as C. altissimum. Still others considered them to be derivatives of hybridization between C. altissimum and C. discolor (J. T. Kartesz and C. A. Meacham 1999) and treated them as C. ×iowense. Indeed the existence of these plants blurs the distinction between C. altissimum and C. discolor, and herbarium specimens are often difficult to assign.

Natural hybrids between Cirsium altissimum and C. discolor are well documented (R. A. Davidson 1963; G. B. Ownbey and Hsi Y.-T. 1963; Ownbey 1964; S. Dabydeen 1997). Ownbey and Dabydeen both reported that apparent F1 hybrids between the two species have low seed set in comparison with the parental taxa. W. L. Bloom (1977) reported that the chromosomes of the two species differ by several rearareaments. Dabydeen reported a count of 2n = 19 with multiple meiotic irregularities for an apparent F1 hybrid. However, the presence of numerous individuals and populations seemingly intermediate between C. altissimum and C. discolor indicates that although F1 hybrids have low fertility, long-term processes may have stabilized hybrid derivatives of higher fertility. Ownbey and Hsi reported mitotic counts of 2n = 18 and 20 from a population that they treated as C. altissimum. In their discussion they noted that their plants represented "the segregate called C. iowense" and had been collected a short distance from that taxon’s type locality. R. J. Moore and C. Frankton (1969) reported a chromosome number of 2n = 18 for a plant from Texas that they considered to be C. iowense. Further investigation of morphologic variation, chromosome number, meiotic behavior, and fertility is needed of populations named as C. iowense to determine how those plants should be treated.

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