Pitcher’s thistle

Cirsium pitcheri

Common Name: Pitcher’s thistle; Dune thistle

  • Wooly leaved thistle that can grow to 20-40 inches tall when mature.
  • Has creamy white flowers and can bloom anytime from May to September.
  • Plants can take up to seven years to flower, and once they flower, they die.
  • Federally and state threatened species.

Native or Invasive: Native perennial

Characteristics: Pitcher’s Thistle is tall and woolly, with white flowers and weak spines at the tips of the leaves. The plant is able to withstand the harsh dune and beach environment because it can develop deep roots, reaching more than six feet into the sand. The plant’s silvery hairs help retain water. Seeds are dispersed by wind and waves or simply dropped in the same location by the parent. Grows only on shorelines or sand dunes of the Great Lakes in Michigan, Indiana, Wisconsin and Ontario, Canada.

Habitat: Sandy and gravelly beaches, especially in Northeast Michigan and the northeast part of the Great Lakes.

Fun Fact: The Pitcher’s Thistle gets its name from amateur naturalist Dr. Zina Pitcher. After Dr. Pitcher discovered the plant in bloom on a camping trip along Lake Superior in 1820, he sent a specimen to a botanist who named it in his honor.

Ethnobotanical Uses: None known. However, related species were used to treat stomach and back pain, combat infection and stimulate breast milk production in nursing mothers.

Adapted from Guide to Great Lakes Coastal Plants, by Ellen Elliott Weatherbee, University of Michigan Press.

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