Species of the Month - July 2014

Melancholy Thistle

Cirisum heterophyllum

The name does not mean the plant itself is melancholy, but that it supposedly cures melancholy in humans.  Culpeper claimed it "makes a man as merry as a cricket".  Modern herbalists don't seem to use it, but the sight of its flowers on a hillside is still very cheering.

Melancholy Thistle is easily told from other thistles as it is not a prickly plant.  The stem completely lacks spines, and the leaves are edged with soft spines that you can easily crush in your hand without pain.  The underside of the leaves is covered with a dense white felt.

Cirsium heterophyllum   Cirsium heterophyllum


The plant is widespread but not common.  It occurs on road verges, heathery moorland and damp grassland, sometimes in large patches.  It can occasionally be found in woods, where it often doesn't flower but can be recognised by the distinctive leaves.

Cirsium heterophyllum   Cirsium heterophyllum

Above: Leaves showing white underside

Left: Flower-bud and upper stem leaves with
auricles clasping stem

The basal leaves are long-stalked and can be very large.  The upper stem leaves are stalkless and surround the stem with large basal lobes (auricles).

Cirsium heterophyllum   Cirsium heterophyllum

Melancholy Thistle grows to about 1 metre tall and the flowers are about 5-6 cm across.  The only similar British plant is Meadow Thistle, which is not known from our area though it occurs in Kintyre and Islay.  It has flowers only half the size of Melancholy Thistle and grows in wet peat.

Please send in yo
ur Melancholy Thistle sightings using the form below, or email sightings@lnhg.org.uk with the details if you prefer.  If you are not sure of the identity of your plant, please send a photo to sightings@lnhg.org.uk, or put one on the LORN forum and let me know it is there.

Date of sighting 
Grid reference 
Number seen 
Name of finder 
Your name (if different) 
Email (not needed if I already know it!) 
Any other details, e.g. habitat,
whether flowering, etc


By filling in this form you agree that the information contained in this form may be collated and disseminated manually or electronically for environmental decision-making, education, research and other public benefit uses in accordance with the LNHG data access policy.  Your email address will not form part of the record and will not be passed on to anyone.

Carl Farmer
G Biological Records Manager

Sightings so far

1 July: Judith reports lots of it flowering at Drimfern and Ladyfield in Glen Aray and along the nearby roadside and riverbank.

23 July: Pat Batty found some near Kilmelford.

20 Aug: Found by Jan near A82 on Rannoch Moor.

Note you can still send in records for past species of the month.  Here is the list of species we've had so far:

Jun 2014 - Forester Moth
May 2014 - Large Red Damselfly

Apr 2014 - Hedgehog
Mar 2014 - Hairy Bittercress
Feb 2014 - Pale Brindled Beauty
Jan 2014 - Velvet Shank
Dec 2013 - Frilly-fruited Jelly Lichen
Nov 2013 - Whooper Swan
Oct 2013 - Ballerina Waxcap
Sep 2013 - Parrot Waxcap
Aug 2013 - Vapourer Moth

Jul 2013 - Emerald Damselfly
Jun 2013 - Globe Flower
May 2013 - Early Purple Orchid
Apr 2013 - Peacock Butterfly
Mar 2013 - Oak Beauty
Feb 2013 - Coral Lungwort

Jan 2013 - Willow Jelly Button & Birch Jelly Button
Dec 2012 - Dice Lichen
Nov 2012 - Feathered Thorn
Oct 2012 - Dryad's Saddle
Sep 2012 - Tawny Grisette
Aug 2012 - Forest Bug
Jul 2012 - Grayling
Jun 2012 - Greater and Lesser Butterfly Orchids
May 2012 - Small Copper
Apr 2012 - Green Tiger Beetle
Mar 2012 - March Moth
Feb 2012 - Barren Strawberry
Jan 2012 - Brambling
Dec 2011 - Red Squirrel
Nov 2011 - Hazel Gloves
Oct 2011 - Small Tortoiseshell
Sep 2011 - Fly Agaric
Aug 2011 - Grass of Parnassus
Jul 2011 - Golden-ringed Dragonfly
Jun 2011 - 7-spot Ladybird
May 2011 - Green Hairstreak
Apr 2011 - Townhall Clock

Mar 2011 - Frogspawn

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This project is supported by Scottish Natural Heritage

All photos and other content copyright Carl Farmer except where stated