Definition of thistle in US English:



  • 1A widely distributed herbaceous plant of the daisy family, which typically has a prickly stem and leaves and rounded heads of purple flowers.

    Carlina, Cirsium, Carduus, and other genera, family Compositae: numerous species, including bull thistle (Cirsium vulgare) and nodding (or musk) thistle (Carduus nutans)

    • ‘Two years ago there were lovely flowers growing here and now, there's nothing but thistles and weeds.’
    • ‘In appearance, artichoke looks a bit like a thistle, though it is a member of the daisy family.’
    • ‘It's used to get rid of dandelions, thistles and ragweed and it kills by causing abnormal cell growth that interrupts the movement of liquids and nutrients in the plant.’
    • ‘Did God create thorns and thistles, and poisonous plants?’
    • ‘It is a tall plant up to 3ft high and the flower head is just as prickly as a thistle.’
    • ‘Goldfinches enjoy eating the seeds of many meadow flowers including daisy, dandelion, and thistle.’
    • ‘Imagine that: in the middle of London, a meadow, wild with thistles and long grass and flowers, with a family of escaped rabbits running wild and an area of grass just big enough for a decent game of rounders.’
    • ‘Highly invasive thistles from Europe have widely hybridized in Australia.’
    • ‘A large variety of shrubs have already been planted in the garden including thistles, dogrose, wild primulas and teasel.’
    • ‘The flower heads are small and numerous compared to other thistles and the roots are extensive.’
    • ‘In the winter, Chukars feed primarily on seeds, cheatgrass, and thistles, switching to insects and green leaves in the summer.’
    • ‘It attacks the thistle's leaves and stem, forming orange-brown lumps called pustules.’
    • ‘Although these thin gloves may not hold up the best when you're doing tougher chores like pulling thistles or pruning rose bushes, they make a great addition to your gardening supply kit.’
    • ‘The grass hasn't been mown for some time - it was knee high - and there were flowering thistles as well.’
    • ‘There are several big holes in the grassy area around the playground, large stinging nettles and thistles, loose nuts and bolts on the park's railings and uneven ground.’
    • ‘But just let it rain and the next thing I know I've got thistles out there with stems big as my wrist.’
    • ‘The thistle is a biennial plant, and this one is in its first year, when it develops a deep taproot.’
    • ‘Reveling in the sheer variety of natural forms, the photographer renders with equal finesse the undulating curves of dahlia blossoms and the bristling spikes of thistles and cacti.’
    • ‘These so-called host plants include many broadleaf weeds and cover crops such as nettles, mallow, chicory, dandelion, thistles, bindweed, deadly nightshade, and many clovers.’
    • ‘For instance, dock and beggarticks often indicate wet soil, while thistles and mullein indicate a dry soil.’
  • 2A thistle as the Scottish national emblem.

    This is usually identified as the Scotch (or cotton) thistle (Onopordum acanthium)

    • ‘The buttonholes worn by the groom and best man were made from an English rose and a Scottish thistle.’
    • ‘The images of the Scottish thistle, the lion rampant, and the Saint Andrew's cross on the national flags come from that period.’
    • ‘In some instances symbols of national pride were also used, among them the English rose, Irish shamrock, and Scottish thistle.’
    • ‘The oil from the seeds of cotton thistles was extracted for fuel and knapweed, centaurea scabiosa, was believed to promote healing of bruises and wounds.’
    • ‘Also known as cotton thistle, it is native to Mediterranean Europe, Africa and the Middle East.’
    • ‘The thistle at far right signifies the Scottish-born Stewart's ancestry, that plant being Scotland's national emblem.’


Old English thistel, of Germanic origin; related to Dutch distel and German Distel.