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     There are several dozen thistles, native and introduced, in the Four Corners area.   Some of these thistles are perennials reproducing from rhizomes; others are biennial, reproducing from seeds.  All are spiny and have only disk flowers.  Most thistles are large and obvious in plant and in flower.  Some non-native thistle are serious invaders of meadows and pastures. The Cirsium genus of thistles is complex and names are often changed.  

   The genus Cirsium was named by Philip Miller (1691-1771).   "Cirsium", is Greek for "dilated vein" from the bygone belief that a thistle distillate opens clogged veins.  

This is a native species.

Cirsium scariosum
Cirsium scariosum variety coloradense.  Synonym: Cirsium coloradense. (Meadow Thistle, Elk Thistle)
Asteraceae (Sunflower Family)

Foothills, montane. Meadows. Summer.
Lone Mesa State Park, August 4, 2008.

Cirsium scariosum can be six feet tall or have no stem and lie plastered to the ground.  It is a distinct Thistle because of this growth habit and because of its stemless flowers tucked into the leaf axils and its very light green leaves and stems.

Cirsium scariosum was first collected for science by Thomas Nuttall in Idaho in 1834 and was named by Nuttall in 1841. "Scariosum" is Latin for thin, dry, not green and probably refers to the very light-colored leaf and stem and/or to the scarious tips of the phyllaries.

Cirsium scariosum variety coloradense.  Synonym: Cirsium coloradense. (Meadow Thistle, Elk Thistle)
Asteraceae (Sunflower Family)

Foothills, montane. Meadows. Summer.
Lone Mesa State Park, August 4, 2008.

Cirsium scariosum
Cirsium scariosum variety coloradense.  Synonym: Cirsium coloradense. (Meadow Thistle, Elk Thistle)
Asteraceae (Sunflower Family)

Foothills, montane. Meadows. Summer.
Lone Mesa State Park, August 4, 2008.

The arrow points to the phyllaries which are flattened against the involucre, glabrous or with some cobwebby hairs, and tipped with strongly reflexed spines. The spines are brown at their base where they are turned outward at a ninety degree angle from the light green bodies of the phyllaries.

 

Cirsium scariosum
Cirsium scariosum variety coloradense.  Synonym: Cirsium coloradense. (Meadow Thistle, Elk Thistle)
Asteraceae (Sunflower Family)

Foothills, montane. Meadows. Summer.
Lone Mesa State Park, August 15, 2008.

Mature flowers explode in a mass of fluffy pappus hairs that will carry the seeds on fall winds.

Range map © John Kartesz,
Floristic Synthesis of North America

State Color Key

Species present in state and native
Species present in state and exotic
Species not present in state

County Color Key

Species present and not rare
Species present and rare
Species extirpated (historic)
Species extinct
Species noxious
Species exotic and present
Native species, but adventive in state
Eradicated
Questionable presence

Range map for Cirsium scariosum