Creeping Thistle

Common Name

  • Creeping thistle

Latin Name

  • Cirsium arvense

Habitat & Distribution

  • Creeping thistle can be found throughout the UK and is our most common species of thistle. This native species is commonly found on farmlands, road side verges, woodlands and gardens.

What’s the problem?

  • Creeping thistle can quickly spread creating large colonies which outcompete other species for light, water and nutrients.
  • The plant forms an extensive horizontal creeping root system by which it spreads.
  • Creeping thistle is an injurious weed species and is listed under the Weeds Act 1959.

Legal Implications?

  • The Weeds Act 1959 aims to prevent the spread of listed species onto private land (Ragwort, Broad-leaved Dock, Curled Dock, Creeping Thistle, and Spear Thistle).
  • The Act allows for powers of enforcement requiring land occupiers to take action to control infestations to prevent the spread of Injurious Weeds onto neighbouring land.
  • Failure to comply with enforcements can result in penalties and convictions.

In Detail

  • Plants form a deep tap root up to 70cm long in the first year.
  • Creeping thistle spreads via lateral roots which produces new shoots.
  • Roots are brittle and easily broken, fragments can regenerate to form new plants.
  • Large clumps are either male or female and will not self-fertilise, cross pollination can occur where male and female clumps grow adjacent to each another.
  • Seeds are airborne and readily germinate in warm weather.
  • Although the species can be invasive, seeds are an important food source for a range of farmland birds including linnets and finches.


  • Creeping thistle is a tall biannual species, the flowering stem typically grows to 1 – 1.5m in height usually in the second year.
  • Leaves are elongated, narrow and spined. The upper surface of the leaf is waxy and the underside downy.
  • Flowers heads appear from July to September with lilac-purple florets.
  • Seeds have a downy pappus which aids wind dispersal. The flower stems die back after producing seed.

Control Methods

  • Chemical Control

Creeping thistle can be successfully treated with herbicide, applications are most effective whilst the plant is actively growing and before the flower heads show colour. Established infestations may require several treatments.

  • Mechanical Control

Digging thistle can make the problem worse are broken fragments of root will regenerate forming new plants. Infestations can be weakened by repeated cutting over a number of years before the plants produce seed.

If you have concerns over Creeping thistle on your land, if you are unsure of your legal responsibilities, or if you would like a quotation for control, please contact one of our specialist surveyors. Treatment costs start at £380.00 + VAT.