One of the mysteries of the English language finally explained.
Any of various herbaceous, thistle-like plants of the genus Centaurea (family Asteraceae), having yellow or purple flowers and tough, sharp spines on the phyllaries, especially C. calcitrapa or C. solstitialis; (occasionally) any plant of this genus.
Late 16th century; earliest use found in Henry Lyte (1529–1607), botanist and antiquary. From star + thistle, after either Dutch sterredistel or post-classical Latin carduus stellatus, with reference to the starlike arrangement of the spines.
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