A biennial which spreads by seed carried in the centre of spherical hairy parachutes during the autumn when they ripen, though most separate just a few feet from the parent and the seeds are carried on foot or are excreted after consumption in fodder. Most germinate in the autumn or the following spring when conditions are suitable, but they can remain dormant for up to three years in the soil. The plant grows at first as a rosette close to the ground with a tap-root and can survive mowing, becoming a monocarpic perennial if the flower spike is prevented from forming.
The dark green leaves have spines around the edges and on the surface, and are lighter underneath due to a dense covering of fine hairs. They are deeply lobed with a long spine at the apex of each lobe. The base of the leaf extends along the lower surface as a supporting wing.
After fertilization the seeds mature and the petals loose their colour. As the flowerhead dries up it splits open to release the pappus with a seed at their centres. The dried stems can remain for a few years if they are not disturbed, all the while releasing seeds.
The rosettes can be dug up and providing the crown is removed the tap-root will not regrow. Any plant which reaches the mature stage should be removed before the flowers lose their colour.
See also Marsh Thistleand Creeping Thistle
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