European Marsh Thistle

Cirsium palustre

european marsh thistle flower and stem
 Image credit: Tessa Tormoen


European marsh thistle, a terrestrial and wetland herbaceous biennial in the Asteraceae family, is an invasive plant that prefers fens, wetlands, and disturbed sites such as roadside ditches. European marsh thistle prefers moist soils:

  • typically grows 2 to 7 feet tall
  • alternate leaves with deeply pinnate segments that have spiny teeth along leaf margins
  • purple colored, disk shaped flowers, covered in spines
  • often found with multiple flowers per stem
  • wind dispersed seeds carried by clusters of cotton-like fuzz

European marsh thistle is distinguished from Canada thistle by having spines that cover the stem, leaves, and flowers.

For more information visit Midwest Invasive Species Information Network (MISIN).

KISMA Management Practices

European marsh thistle can colonize areas quite aggressively and can be difficult to remove from areas due to their wet soils. Current management practices: 

  1. annually hand pull or dig around rosettes
  2. if thistle has bloomed, clip off flowers, buds, and fruiting bodies to prevent seed production
  3. mow population before flower buds open when possible
  4. be sure to dispose of clippings in a bag

Note: It is important to pull second growth plants to eventually exhaust the seed source and deplete populations. It is also important to bag flower clippings to prevent further seed production and spread.

Native Alternatives

Species such as native swamp thistle (Cirsium muticum), swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata), and Joe-Pye-weed (Eutrochium maculatum), are all great alternatives to European marsh thistle. These species are tall herbaceous perennial flowers that are extremely similar to European marsh thistle. All of these would be great choices for replanting in areas where European marsh thistle has been removed.

european marsh thistle foliage

(image credit: Sigrid Resh) leaf foliage of European marsh thistle 

european marsh thistle stem

(image credit: Sigrid Resh) the spiny stem of a European marsh thistle 

european marsh thistle flower cluster

(image credit: Tessa Tormoen) cluster of European marsh thistle flowers 

european marsh thistle leaves and stem
(image credit: Sigrid Resh) close up of the leaves and stem of a European marsh thistle 


Cirsium palustre,

European swamp thistle (Cirsium palustre). MISIN, 2020

Cirsium palustre, Fire Effects Information System (FEIS)

Jouko Lehmuskallio NatureGate

marsh thistle, Midwest Invasive Plant List

Wisconsin DNR