Carline thistle

Carline Thistle

┬ęBruce Shortland

Carline thistle

Scientific name: Carlina vulgaris
The Carline thistle produces distinctive brown-and-golden flower heads that look like a seeded thistle. These flowers are attractive to a wide range of butterflies, including the very rare Large blue.

Species information


Height: up to 60cm

Conservation status


When to see

January to December


The Carline thistle is a spiny biennial plant that can be found on dry, chalk grassland. Its distinctive brown and golden flower heads look like a daisy that is dying or a thistle that's gone to seed, but they are, in fact, in full flower. They can be seen from July to September, although the dead heads persist for much longer, often into the following spring.

How to identify

The Carline thistle has clusters of flower heads that look like dead or dying daisies. They are actually composite flower heads, consisting of brown florets (tiny flowers) surrounded by a fringe of golden bracts (leaf-like structures). In the bright sunshine, they glisten silver and gold. Carline Thistles have oblong leaves, with wavy margins and spiny lobes, that hug their stems.


Mainly found in England and Wales; scattered distribution elsewhere.

Did you know?

The Carline thistle is a nectar source for a wide variety of butterflies including the Brimstone, Chalkhill blue, Gatekeeper, Marbled white, Silver-spotted skipper, Dark green fritillary and the once extinct, but recently reintroduced, Large blue.

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.