This section is from the book "British Wild Flowers - In Their Natural Haunts Vol2-4", by A. R. Horwood. Also available from Amazon: A British Wild Flowers In Their Natural Haunts.
This plant is found throughout the North Temperate Zone in Europe, N. Africa, Siberia, and has been introduced into North America. It is unknown in any early beds. In Great Britain it occurs throughout the Peninsula, Channel, Thames, Anglia, and Severn provinces; not in Radnor or Cardigan in S. Wales; Montgomery or Merioneth in N. Wales; throughout the Trent, Chester, Humber, Tyne, Lakes districts, except in the Isle of Man; in Lanark; not in Peebles, Selkirk, or Linlithgow in E. Lowlands; in Stirling, Kincardine, and Perth; Elgin, N. Ebudes, Ross, and Shetland; or from Skye and Moray southward, ascending to 1600 ft. in Yorks.
The Musk Thistle is a conspicuous denizen of waste ground, rubbish heaps, growing near houses, and generally being a decided follower of man. It also grows largely on sandy, hilly ground, hybridizing with other species and growing gregariously.
It is tall, erect, the stem being grooved, with wavy wings, very spinose, and cottony. The leaves at the base run down the stem. They are spinous, lance-shaped, hairy, with woolly veins below, and deeply lobed. The spines serve as a protection against animals.
The flowers are drooping, purple, with lance-shaped acute phyllaries.
Photo S. Crook - Musk Thistle (Carduus Nutans, L.)
The scales taper to a rigid point. The outer phyllaries are turned back. The florets are tubular, complete, and have scales at the base.
The height varies from 2-3 ft. Musk Thistle flowers in July and August. It is a herbaceous annual and multiplied by seeds.
The flowers are bisexual, with tubular corollas, the tube widened at the top, and short, so accessible to short-lipped insects. The anthers bear linear appendages, and the style arms are united to form a column with a ring of hairs at the base. The flowerheads are large and conspicuous, and there is abundance of honey and pollen. The plant is visited by Bombus hortorum, B. pratorum, B. vestalis, Halictus cylin-dricus, H. malachurus, and the Narrow-bordered Five-spotted Burnet (Zygaena lonicerae).
The Musk Thistle is provided with abundant threadlike pappus to assist in the dispersal of the achenes by the wind.
The Musk Thistle is a sand-loving plant, fond of sand soil, and is abundant on Great Chalky Boulder Clay and Marlstone, which afford arenaceous and somewhat chalky subsoils. It occurs also on limestones commonly and chalk.
A fungus, Bremia lactucae, is found on the leaves of this and other thistles. The beetles Psylliodes chalcomera, Sphaeroderma testacea, Rhinocyllus latirostris, Lepidoptera, Painted Lady (Pyrameis cardui), Grapholitha scutulana, a Hemipterous insect, Monanthia cardui, and the flies Cheilosia cynocephala, Urophora solstitialis, feed on this plant.
Carduus, Pliny, is Latin for thistle, and the second Latin name refers to its nodding heads.
This plant is called Queen Ann's Thrissel, Bank, Buck, Musk, and Scotch Thistle. It is called Musk Thistle because of its scent.
To divine who loved her most, a young woman took three or four heads of thistles, cut off their points, and assigned to each thistle the name of an admirer, and laid them under her pillow. The thistle which first put forth a fresh sprout denoted the man who loved her most. It is lucky to dream of thistles, and to be surrounded by them is propitious, foretelling one will have before long some pleasant intelligence. It was sacred to Thor and worn about the body, and said to be useful in healing. The dried flowers have been used to curdle milk. The seeds are used as bird-seed.
Essential Specific Characters:169. Carduus nutans, L. - Stem single, grooved, winged, leaves lanceolate, spinous, decurrent, downy, flowers purple, red, in drooping heads, solitary, scales tapered to a rigid point, cottony, the outer ones recurved, pappus rough.