CPC National Collection Plant Profile

Cirsium pitcheri

Brian Parsons

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CPC National Collection Plant Profile

Cirsium pitcheri

Common Names: 
dune thistle, pitcher's thistle, sand dune thistle
(Torr. ex Eat.) Torr. & Gray
Growth Habit: 
CPC Number: 


Profile Links
 Fish & WildLife
 Forest Service

Cirsium pitcherienlarge
Photographer: Brian Parsons

Cirsium pitcherienlarge
Photographer: Brian Parsons

Cirsium pitcheri is Fully Sponsored
Primary custodian for this plant in the CPC National Collection of Endangered Plants is: 
Lindsey Parsons contributed to this Plant Profile.

Cirsium pitcheri

This herbaceous plant grows for 5-8 years before flowering. It blooms and sets seed once in its life. It stays open from June until September, and is visited by up to 30 different insect species. When it flowers, it has one stem, and many branches. The entire plant can be up to 3 feet tall. The blossoms are cream or pink colored. The leaves are finely but deeply lobed, and can be up to 1 foot in length. The stems of the plant have fine hairs on them, which is an adaptation to its beach environment, so it can retain water and reflect the sun. It has a long taproot, growing up to 6 feet long.

Prior to flowering, this plant is found as a rosette with a cluster of leaves that are blue-green and covered in dense white wooly hairs. The plant is fairly stout and prickly. The entire plant is blue-green and covered in dense white wooly hairs. Mature leaves are divided deeply into narrow, spine tipped segments. The flower heads are also prickly and spine tipped. The heads are relatively large, and the seeds have feathery bristles. The seeds germinate in June, while the plant flowers and fruits from June until early September. Plant flowers and fruits from late June to early September.

Distribution & Occurrence

State Range
State Range of  Cirsium pitcheri
  Pitcher’s thistle is found only on the open sand dunes along the shores of the western Great Lakes. (Bell et al. 2002)

  Found in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Ontario (USFWS 1988)

Number Left
  There is one population at Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore
One population in Ludington State Park/Manistee National Forest
Occurs in two Michigan Nature Association Sanctuaries
Occurs in several Natural Areas
1 population in Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
Occurs at 12 sites in Canada (Great Lakes)
136 occurrences in the U.S. (Great Lakes)
Reintroduction by U.S. Fish & Wildlife at Illinois Beach State Park resulted in the establishment of approximately 100 plants.


Global Rank:  
Guide to Global Ranks
Federal Status:  
Guide to Federal Status
Recovery Plan:  

State/Area Protection
  State/Area Rank Status Date  
  Canada (Ontario) N2 E 11/1/2001  
  Illinois LT 1/1/2002  
  Indiana S2 LT 1/1/2002  
  Michigan S3 LT 3/1/1999  
  Ontario S2 E 5/23/1991  
  Wisconsin S2 LT 1/12/2001  

Conservation, Ecology & Research

Ecological Relationships
  • Visited by many different insect pollinators, including halictid bees, bumblebees, megachilid bees, anthophorid bees, skippers, butterflies, and moths (moths being nocturnal pollinators).
• Seed predation on this species comes in many forms. It was found that American Goldfinches consumed as many as 50% of all the seeds in a flower head. Thirteen-lined ground squirrels were also observed preying on undispersed seeds, while birds, notably sparrows, ate unburied dispersed seeds. Spittlebugs cause damage to the plant.
• The flower head weevil (Rhinocyllus conicus), an insect introduced from Europe to control weed thistles in pasture and rangelands, could potentially impact already threatened populations of Cirsium pitcheri. (Mlot 1997)

  Shoreline development
Road maintenance
Road construction
Shoreline recreation activities
Residential development
Sand mining
Dune and shoreline stabilization
Off-road vehicles
Misidentification and eradication
Foot traffic
Vehicular traffic
Extreme drought (especially for juveniles and seedlings)
(USFWS 1988)

Current Research Summary
  • Dr. M.A. Maun at the University of Western Ontario is performing ongoing work on the restoration ecology of this species.
• Research by individuals at Chicago State University, the Morton Arboretum, and Chicago Botanic Garden have been working on reintroducing this species to Illinois since 1991. This work has included genetic and life history studies.

Current Management Summary
  Pitcher’s thistle was extirpated from the Illinois shoreline of Lake Michigan in the early 1900s. Collaborative reintroduction efforts begun in 1991 by the Morton Arboretum, Chicago State University, and the Chicago Botanic Garden have had some success in bringing this plant back to its former habitat in the state for the long term. Research and monitoring continues on these reintroduced populations. (Bell et al. 2002)

Research Management Needs
  Continued monitoring of populations to ensure their continued protection and long-term viability.

Ex Situ Needs


Books (Single Authors)

1999. A Forester's Field Guide to the Endangered and Threatened Plants of Michigan's Upper Penninsula. Mead Corporation, Champion International Corporation and Shelter Bay Forests, Inc.

Herkert, J.; Ebinger, J.E. 2002. Endangered and threatened species of Illinois: Status and distribution. Springfield, IL: Illinois Endangered Species Protection Board. 161p.

Pepoon, H.S. 1927. An Annotated Flora of the Chicago Region. Chicago, Illinois: The Chicago Academy of Sciences. 554p.

Books (Sections)

Kartesz, J.T. 1999. A synonymized checklist of the vascular flora of the U.S., Canada, and Greenland. In: Kartesz, J.T.; Meacham, C.A., editors. Synthesis of the North American Flora, Version 1.0. North Carolina Botanical Garden. Chapel Hill, NC.

McEachern, K.; Bowles, M.L.; Pavlovic, N.B. 1994. A metapopulation approach to Pitcher's thistle (Cirsium pitcheri) recovery in southern Lake Michigan dunes. In: Bowles, M.L.; Whelan, C., editors. Recovery and Restoration of Endangered Species. Cambridge University Press. Cambridge. p 194-218.

Pavlovic, N.B. 1994. Disturbance-dependent persistence of rare plants: anthropogenic impacts and restoration implications. In: Bowles, M.L.; Whelan, C., editors. Recovery and Restoration of Endangered Species. Cambridge University Press. Cambridge. p 159-193.

Weller, S.G. 1994. The relationship of rarity to plant reproductive biology. In: Bowles, M.L.; Whelan, C., editors. Recovery and Restoration of Endangered Species. Cambridge University Press. Cambridge. p 90-117.

Conference Proceedings

Havens, K.; Bowles, M.L. Implications of genetic analyses for rare plant restoration projects. Annual Meeting of the Botanical Society of America; 2-6 August, 1998; Baltimore, MD. 1998.

Electronic Sources

COSEWIC. (2001). Species at Risk. [Web site] Environment Canada; Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada. http://www.speciesatrisk.gc.ca/species/English/Default.cfm. Accessed: 2002.

Kost, M.A. (2000). Natural Community Abstract for open dunes. Michigan Natural Features Inventory, Lansing MI. 5 pp. http://www.dnr.state.mi.us/wildlife/heritage/mnfi/abstracts/ecology/open_dune.pdf. Accessed: 2002.

WIDNR. (2002). Wisconsin Endangered and Threatened Plants Species. Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. http://www.dnr.state.wi.us/org/land/er/factsheets/00etlist2.htm. Accessed: 2002.

Journal Articles

Balis-Larsen, M.; Dauphine, C.; Jewell, S. 1999. Canada and U.S. Save Shared Species at Risk. Endangered Species Bulletin. 24, 2: 22-23.

Bell, T.; Bowles, M.L.; McBride, J.L.; Havens, K.; Vitt, P.; McEachern, K. 2002. Reintroducing Pitcher’s Thistle. Endangered Species Bulletin. 27, 3: 14-15.

Bevill, R.L.; Louda, S.M.; Stanforth, L.M. 1999. Protection from natural enemies in managing rare plant species. Conservation Biology. 13, 6: 1323-1331.

Bowles, M.; Flakne, R.; McEachern, K.; Pavlovic, N. 1993. Recovery Planning and Reintroduction of the Federally Threatened Pitchers Thistle (Cirsium pitcheri) in Illinois. Natural Areas Journal. 13, 3: 164-176.

Chen, H.. 1997. Seed Dormancy of Pitcher's Thistle: A Threatened Species of Lake Huron Sand Dunes (Cirsium pitcheri). Masters Abstracts International. 36-06: 1536.

Chen, H.; Maun, M.A. 1998. Population ecology of Cirsium pitcheri on Lake Huron sand dunes. III. Mechanisms of seed dormancy. Canadian Journal of Botany-Revue Canadienne De Botanique. 76, 4: 575-586.

Chen, H.; Maun, M.A. 1999. Effects of sand burial depth on seed germination and seedling emergence of Cirsium pitcheri. Plant Ecology. 140, 1: 53-60.

D'Ulisse, A.; Maun, M.A. 1996. Population ecology of Cirsium pitcheri on Lake Huron sand dunes 2. Survivorship of plants. Canadian Journal of Botany-Revue Canadienne De Botanique. 74, 11: 1701-1707.

D'Ulisse, A.P. 1995. The Population Ecology of Cirsium pitcheri on Lake Huron Sand Dunes. Masters Abstracts International. 34-03: 1092.

Guire, K.E.; Voss, E.G. 1963. Distributions of distinctive shoreline plants in the Great Lakes Region. Michigan Botanist. 2: 99-114.

Hamze, S.I.; Jolls, C.L. 2000. Germination ecology of a federally threatened endemic thistle, Cirsium pitcheri, of the Great Lakes. American Midland Naturalist. 143, 1: 141-153.

Johnson, M.F.; Iitis, H. 1963. Preliminary reports on the flora of Wisconsin; No. 48: Compositae I. Transactions of the Wisconsin Academy of Science, Arts and Letters. 52: 255-342.

Keddy, C.J.; Keddy, P.A. 1984. Reproductive biology and habitat of Cirsium pitcheri. Michigan Botanist. 23: 57-67.

Knops, J.M.H.; Ritchie, M.E.; Tilman, D. 2000. Selective herbivory on a nitrogen fixing legume (Lathyrus venosus) influences productivity and ecosystem nitrogen pools in an oak savanna. Ecoscience. 7, 2: 166-174.

Loveless, M.D. 1984. Population Biology and Genetic Organization in Cirsium pitcheri, and Endemic Thistle. Dissertation Abstracts International. 46-04, Section B: 1056.

Loveless, M.D.; Hamrick, J.L. 1988. Genetic organization and evolutionary history in two North American species of Cirsium. Evolution. 42, 2: 254-265.

McEachern, K. 1992. Disturbance Dynamics of Pitcher's Thistle (Cirsium pitcheri) Populations in Great Lakes Sand Dune Landscapes (Dune Disturbance). Dissertation Abstracts International. 54-06, Section B: 2869.

Mlot, C. 1997. Biological Pest Control Harms Natives. Science News. 152: 100.

Moritsch, B.J.; Muir, P.S. 1993. Subalpine revegetation in Yosemite National Park, California; Changes in vegetation after three years. Natural Areas Journal. 13, 3: 155-163.

Ownbey, G.B.; Hsi, Y. 1963. Chromosome numbers in some North American species of the genus Cirsium. Rhodora. 65: 339-354.

Perumal, J.V. 1994. Sand Accretion and its Effects on the Distribution and Ecophysiology of Dune Plants. Dissertation Abstracts International. 56-01, Section B: 0043.

Phillips, T.; Maun, M.A. 1996. Population ecology of Cirsium pitcheri on Lake Huron sand dunes 1. Impact of white-tailed deer. Canadian Journal of Botany-Revue Canadienne De Botanique. 74, 9: 1439-1444.

Phillips, T.D. 1995. Effect if Simulated Herbivory by White-Tailed Deer on Cirsium pitcheri: A Rare Plant Species. Masters Abstracts International. 34-03: 1096.

Promaine, A. 1999. Threatened species monitoring: Results of a 17-year survey of Pitcher's Thistle, Cirsium pitcheri, in Pukaskwa National Park, Ontario. Canadian Field-Naturalist. 113, 2: 296-298.

Rowland, J.; Maun, M.A. 2001. Restoration ecology of an endangered plant species: Establishment of new populations of Cirsium pitcheri. Restoration Ecology. 9, 1: 60-70.

Rowland, J.M. 1999. Restoration Ecology of Cirsium pitcheri along Lake Huron Sand Dunes (Ontario). Masters Abstracts International. 38-01: 0123.

Russell, F.L.; Zippin, D.B.; Fowler, N.L. 2001. Effects of white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) on plants, plant populations and communities: A review. American Midland Naturalist. 146, 1: 1-26.

Schwegman, J.E. 1988. Illinoensis. Newsletter of the Illinois Native Plant Conservation Program. 4, 1: 4?.

Stanforth, L.M.; Louda, S.M.; Bevill, R.L. 1997. Insect herbivory on juveniles of a threatened plant, Cirsium pitcheri, in relation to plant size, density and distribution. Ecoscience. 4, 1: 57-66.

Strong, D.R. 1997. Fear no weevil?. Science (Washington D.C.). 277, 5329: 1058-1059.

USFWS. 1987. Listing Protection Proposed for Eleven Plants and Animals. Endangered Species Technical Bulletin. 12, 8: 1-9.

USFWS. 1987. Proposed Threatened Status for Cirsium pitcheri. Federal Register. 52, 138: 27229-27232.

USFWS. 1988. Determination of Threatened Status for Cirsium pitcheri. Federal Register. 53, 137

Voss, E.G. 2001. A purple color form of Pitcher's Thistle. Contributions From the University of Michigan Herbarium. 23: 349-350.

Wan, F-H.; Harris, P.; Cai, L-M.; Zhang, M-X. 1996. Host specificity of Altica carduorum Guer. (Chrysomelidae: Coleoptera), a defoliator of Cirsium arvense (L.) Scop. (Asteraceae) from North-western China. Biocontrol Science & Technology. 6, 4: 521-530.


1990. Addendum: Recovery 2000. Species Specific Information for Recovery Strategies. Twin Cities, MN: U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. p.28.

1992. Pitcher's Thistle (Cirsium pitcheri). Lansing, MI: Michigan DNR Wildlife Division, Natural Heritage Program. p.4.

Bowles, M.L.; Bell, T. 1999. Recovery strategies and delisting criteria for Platanthera leucophaea, Asclepias meadii, Lespedeza leptostachya, Dalea foliosa, and Cirsium pitcheri. Springfield, IL: Report to the Illinois Endangered Species Protection Board.

Bowles, M.L.; Hess, W.J.; DeMauro, M.M. 1985. An assessment of the monitoring program for special floristic elements at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshores. Phase II: Threatened and special concern species. Lisle, Illinois: The Morton Arboretum. Unpublished report.

Bowles, M.L.; McEachern, K.; Pavlovic, N.B. Pitcher's Thistle (Cirsium pitcheri) Reintroduction. The Morton Arboretum, Univiersity of Wisconsin at Madison, and Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. p.1.

Cook, J.G.; Lansky, R.P.; Henszey, J.L.; Nieghburs, M.L.; Dueholm, K.H.; Kozie, K.D.; Anderson, S.H. 1987. Section V: literature review of rare species known to occur on National Park Service lands, Midwest region. Omaha, NE: National Park Service. p.193.

Crispin, S.; Penskar, M. 1990. Cirsium pitcheri; Endangered Species Manual. Michigan Natural Features Inventory. Unpublished abstract.

Dobberpuhl, J.M.; Gibson, T.C. 1987. Status surveys and habitat assessment of plant species: I. Cirsium pitcheri (Torr.) T. & G. Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. Unpublished report.

Hazlett, B.T. 1986. The terrestrial vegetation and flora of the mainland portion of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, Benzie and Leelanau Counties, Michigan. Omaha, Nebraska: National Park Service, Midwest Region. Unpublished.

Hazlett, B.T.; Vande Kopple, R.J. 1983. The Terrestrial Vegetation and Flora of North and South Manitou Islands, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. University of Michigan Biological Station. p.143. Technical Report #11.

Higman, P.J.; Penskar, M.R. 1999. Special plant abstract for Cirsium pitcheri. Lansing, MI: Michigan Natural Features Inventory. p.3.

Keddy, C.J. 1981. An ecological study of Cirsium pitcheri (Pitcher's thistle) in. Heron Bay, Ontario: Parks Canada, Pukaskwa National Park.

Keddy, C.J. 1988. Status report on the Pitcher's Thistle, Cirsium pitcheri. Ottawa, Canada: COSEWIC.

McEachern, K.; Magnuson, J.A.; Pavlovic, N.B. 1989. Preliminary results of a study to monitor Cirsium pitcheri in Great Lakes National Lakeshores. Porter, Indiana: National Park Service, Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.

Moore, R.J.; Frankton, C. 1974. The thistles of Canada. Research Branch, Canada Department of Agriculture. p.111. Monograph #10.

Mosquin, T. 1990. A review of monitoring procedures and management guidelines for the Pitcher's thistle (Cirsium pitcheri) in Pukaskwa National Park. Heron Bay, Ontario: Parks Canada, Pukaskwa National Park.

Mosquin, T.; Vien, L.; Sahanatien, V. 1986. Cirsium pitcheri monitoring report, Pukaskwa National Park, including management recommendations. Parks Canada, Ontario Region.

Randall, C. 1978. Four threatened plants for the Great Lakes shorelines. Lansing: Michigan Department of Natural Resources. p.6.

  This profile was updated on 3/4/2010
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