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Southwest Desert Flora

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Cirsium ochrocentrum, Yellowspine Thistle

Cirsium ochrocentrum, Yellowspine Thistle

Yellowspine Thistle has flowers that might be pink, purple, white or lavender. This species has 1 to few floral heads. Cirsium ochrocentrum Yellowspine Thistle blooms from May to October across its broad geographic range of distribution. Cirsium ochrocentrum Yellowspine Thistle and all thistles of the genus Cirsium are important as a group as they are frequently visited by pollinators such as Native bees, bumblebees and a very large numbers of insects and butterflies. Thistle floral heads are magnets for insects of all kinds. Cirsium ochrocentrum Yellowspine Thistle leaves are grayish-white (tomentose), alternate and with a variable shape from oblong to narrowly elliptic, note as shown in the photo they are also strongly undulate. Cirsium ochrocentrum Yellowspine Thistle leaves are coarsely dentate or shallowly to deeply pinnatifid (8-15 paired lobes). Note the spines are sharp and yellowish; lowers sides are whitish (tomentose) and the upper sides are grayish-tomentose. Cirsium ochrocentrum Yellowspine Thistle: Most southwestern native thistles are non-aggressive; non-invasive and beneficial as pollinators that have evolved to thrive without becoming weedy. Many native thistles are now threatened with some species at risk of extinction. Cirsium ochrocentrum

Scientific Name: Cirsium ochrocentrum
Common Name: Yellowspine Thistle

Also Called: Spanish: Cardo

Family: Asteraceae, Sunflower Family

Synonyms: (Carduus ochrocentrus, Carduus undulatus var. undulatus, Cnicus ochrocentrus, Cnicus undulatus var. ochrocentrus )

Status: Native

Duration: Biennial or perennial.

Size: Up to 3 feet (30-90 cm)

Growth Form: Forb/herb stems 1 to 20, erect or ascending; stems densely gray-tomentose.

Leaves: Grayish-white tomentose; alternate, leaf shape variable, oblong to narrowly elliptic, strongly undulate; leaf edges or margins coarsely dentate or shallowly to deeply pinnatifid with 8 to 15 pairs of lobes; lobes-tipped with strong spines, main spine sharp and yellowish; lower leaf surfaces white-tomentose, upper leaf surfaces grayish-tomentose.

Flower Color: Pink, purple, white or lavender; heads solitary or few, flowering stalk (peduncle), bracts or phyllaries around floral heads linear or lanceolate always with sharp yellow spines; fruit a light brown cypsela.

Flowering Season: April, May or June to July and October

Elevation: 4,500 to 8,000 feet (1,370-2,430 m)

Habitat Preferences: Open areas, disturbed areas, grasslands, pinyon-juniper communities, fields, roadsides.

Recorded Range: Yellowspine Thistle has a large geographic range, generally in the western half of the United States including the Great Plains of the Central United States and the desert regions of the southwestern United States. It is also native to much of northern Mexico southward to include Durango.

North America & US County Distribution Map for Cirsium ochrocentrum.

North America species range map for Cirsium ochrocentrum:
North American range map courtesy of Virginia Tech, Dept. of Forest Resources & Environmental Conservation

North America species range map for Cirsium ochrocentrum: Click image for full size map.
Click image for full size map

U.S. Weed Information: Cirsium ochrocentrum is listed in:
  • Weeds of Nebraska and the Great Plains,
  • Weeds of the United States and Canada,
  • Weeds of the West.

  • Plants included here may become weedy or invasive. See Comments: section below for additional information regarding “weedy” thistles.

    Invasive/Noxious Weed Information: In North America Cirsium ochrocentrum is listed as a noxious weed by the States of:
  • California, yellowspine Thistle “A list Noxious Weeds”;
  • Arkansas, Cirsium; Thistle, “Noxious weed;
  • Iowa, Cirsium; Thistle, “Primary noxious weed”.

  • Plants included here are invasive or noxious. See the Comments: section below for additional information regarding “noxious” thistles.

    Wetland Indicator: Unknown

    Threatened/Endangered Information: Unknown

    Genus Information: In North America there are 91 species for Cirsium. Worldwide, The Plant List includes 481 accepted species names and a further 812 scientific names of infraspecific rank for the genus.

    The genus Cirsium was published by Philip Miller in 1754.

    In the Southwestern United States: Arizona and New Mexico each have 19 species of genus, California has 26 species, Nevada has 16 species, Texas has 12 species, Utah has 23 species. All data approximate and subject to revision.

    There are 2 sub-species of Cirsium ochrocentrum;
    Cirsium ochrocentrum ssp. martinii, (AZ, NM);
    Cirsium ochrocentrum ssp. ochrocentrum, generally western half of the United States.

    Comments: Yellowspine Thistle is a common upland thistle in Arizona at elevations above 4,500 feet.

    The genus Cirsium in general, has received adverse notoriety because of the introduction of two thistles native to Europe and now widespread throughout North America. The Canadian Thistle, Cirsium arvense and and the Bull Thistle, Cirsium vulgare are both listed as noxious primarily by agricultural interests. The Canadian Thistle and Bull Thistle together for example are listed as noxious weeds in 33 and 9 states respectively.

    In reality, most southwestern native thistles, including Graham's Thistle, are non-aggressive; non-invasive and beneficial as pollinators. Our native thistles have evolved over thousands of years and have mostly thrived without ever becoming weedy. However, many native thistles are now threatened and some species are at risk of extinction.

    In Southwest Desert Flora also see; Arizona Thistle, Cirsium arizonicum, Graham's Thistle Cirsium grahamii, Mojave Thistle, Cirsium mohavense and New Mexico Thistle, Cirsium neomexicanum.

    Importance to Wildlife, Birds and Livestock
    Thistles of the genus Cirsium are regularly visited by many wildlife species such as small mammals, hummingbirds and nectar-feeding bats. Also the seeds are attractive to finches including the American goldfinch and many other birds.

    Special Value to Native Bees, Butterflies and Insects
    Thistles of the genus Cirsium are important as a group as they are provide nectar and pollen for bees and they are frequently visited by pollinators such as Native bees, bumblebees and an exceptionally large number of insects and butterflies. "Monarch butterflies visit native thistle flowers more than any other wildflowers in some regions during their migration back to Mexico". They are also heavily used as food plants by the larvae of some Lepidoptera (butterfly) species. In addition to food Cirsium also provides nesting material and structure for Native bees and other insects.

    To find out more about Butterflies and Moths of North America visit BAMONA.

    For an interesting article on native thistles in North America see Native Thistles: A Conservation Practitioner's Guide, published on-line by The Xerces Society, For Invertebrate Conservation.

    To find out more about Butterflies and Moths of North America visit BAMONA.

    The genus Cirsium is derived from the Greek words kirsion "a kind of thistle" in turn from kirsos, "a swollen vein or welt," as thistles are used as a remedy for such issues.

    Thistles of the genus Cirsium are known as “plume thistles” because they have feathered hairs on their pappi while thistles of the genera Carduus, Silybum and, Onopordum have a pappi with simple unbranched hairs.

    The genus Cirsium was published by Philip Miller in 1754.

    The species epithet ochrocentrum (ochrocen'trum:) means with an ochre-colored center.

    Yellowspine Thistle was used as a treatment for sores and a multitude of other purposes by the Kiowa and Zuni Nations.
  • Kiowa Drug, Burn Dressing and as a wash for sores, Decoction of blossoms used as wash for burns and used as a wash for sores.
  • Kiowa Other, Protection, Blossoms used to cover graves of those recently buried to keep the wolves from digging up the body.
  • Kiowa Food, Unspecified, Roots used for food.
  • Zuni Drug, Contraceptive,Infusion of root taken by both partners as a contraceptive.
  • Zuni Drug, Emetic/Diaphoretic/Venereal Aid, Infusion of whole plant taken as a diaphoretic for syphilis.
  • Zuni Drug, Misc. Disease Remedy,Infusion of fresh or dried root taken three times a day for diabetes.

  • See complete listing of ethno-botanical uses at Native American Ethnobotany, University of Michigan, Dearborn.

    Date Profile Completed: 9/29/2012; updated 06/19/2020
    Arizona Flora, Kearney, Thomas H., Peebles, Robert H., 1960, University of California Press, Berkley and Los Angeles
    U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service on-line database and USGS ITIS search - (accessed 06/15/2020) (for Cirsium) (for Cirsium)
    The Plant List (2013). Version 1.1. Published on the Internet; (accessed 06/15/2020).
    David J. Keil 2012, Cirsium ochrocentrum var. ochrocentrum, in Jepson Flora Project (eds.) Jepson eFlora,
    /eflora/eflora_display.php?tid=70931, accessed on June 19, 2020.
    David J. Keil, FNA | Family List | FNA Vol. 19, 20 and 21 | Asteraceae | Cirsium; 24. Cirsium ochrocentrum; Flora of North America Editorial Committee, eds. 1993+. Flora of North America North of Mexico. 16+ vols. New York and Oxford.
    Native Plant Information Network, NPIN (2013). Published on the Internet (accessed 06/19/2020). Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center at The University of Texas, Austin, TX.
    Wikipedia contributors, 'Cirsium ochrocentrum', Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 28 June 2018, 06:16 UTC, [accessed 19 June 2020]
    Wikipedia contributors, 'Cirsium', Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 25 January 2020, 15:17 UTC, [accessed 16 June 2020]
    James Eckberg, Eric Lee-Mäder, Jennifer Hopwood, Sarah Foltz Jordan, and Brianna Borders; 2017. Native Thistles: A Conservation Practitioner’s Guide
    FNA 2006, Martin and Hutchins 1980, Kearney and Peebles 1969, Kearny and Peebles 1979, Heil et al 2013; Editors: S.Buckley 2010, F.S.Coburn 2015, A.Hazelton 2015 from SEINet Field Guide, on-line; (accessed 06/19/2020).
    SEINet for synonyms, scientific names and recorded geographic locations,
    Etymology:Michael L. Charters California Plant Names: Latin and Greek Meanings and Derivations; A Dictionary of Botanical and Biographical Etymology - (accessed 02/12/2020)