CPC Plant Profile: Dune Thistle
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Plant Profile

Dune Thistle (Cirsium pitcheri)

A great view?this rare thistle grows on the sandy shores of the Great Lakes. Shown here at Grand Sable Dunes. Photo Credit: Brian Parsons
Description
  • Global Rank: N/A
  • Legal Status: N/A
  • Family: Asteraceae
  • State: IL, IN, MI, ON, WI
  • Nature Serve ID: 130152
  • Date Inducted in National Collection: 02/09/1992

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.

Participating Institutions
Updates
Center for Plant Conservation
  • 08/18/2021
  • Orthodox Seed Banking

In 2021, CPC contracted the Chicago Botanic Garden to recollect seed from a population currently held in long term orthodox seed storage as part of an IMLS-funded seed longevity experiment. The National Laboratory for Genetic Resources Preservation will evaluate how germination tested viability and RNA Integrity of seed lots decline over time in storage.

  • 10/02/2020
  • Genetic Research

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.

  • 10/02/2020
  • Genetic Research

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.

  • 10/02/2020
  • Genetic Research

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.

  • 10/02/2020
  • Reintroduction

Reintroduction by U.S. Fish & Wildlife at Illinois Beach State Park resulted in the establishment of approximately 100 plants.

  • 10/02/2020
  • Reintroduction

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)

  • 10/02/2020
  • Reintroduction

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)

Nature Serve Biotics
  • 05/02/2017

One of the few Great Lakes endemics, this plant is found in a narrow band along the margins of Lakes Michigan, Huron, and Superior. Most extant sites (over 150) are in Michigan; several remain in Wisconsin, Indiana, and Ontario; none remain in Illinois. Many populations appear robust, including many that have increased in size since 2000 (COSEWIC 2010). However, the recent discovery of three escaped biocontrol species and the threat these species pose on C. pitcheri survival and fecundity impacts the overall G rank. Other factors such as development and associated manipulation of shoreline habitat, recreation, inbreeding, predation by goldfinches and climate change continue to threaten C. pitcheri occurrences. Because this species has a limited ability to disperse seeds widely, large colonies may be necessary to effectively colonize or recolonize naturally disturbed sites within its dynamic dune ecosystem.

Lindsey Parsons
  • 01/01/2010

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

Lindsey Parsons
  • 01/01/2010

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.

Lindsey Parsons
  • 01/01/2010

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.

Lindsey Parsons
  • 01/01/2010

Pitchers 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)

Lindsey Parsons
  • 01/01/2010

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

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Nomenclature
Taxon Cirsium pitcheri
Authority (Torr. ex Eat.) Torr. & Gray
Family Asteraceae
CPC Number 962
ITIS 36400
USDA CIPI
Common Names dune thistle | pitcher's thistle | sand dune thistle
Associated Scientific Names Cirsium pitcheri
Distribution Found in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Ontario (USFWS 1988)
State Rank
State State Rank
Illinois S1
Indiana S2
Michigan S3
Ontario S2
Wisconsin S2
Habitat

Pitchers thistle is found only on the open sand dunes along the shores of the western Great Lakes. (Bell et al. 2002)

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)

Pollinators
Common Name Name in Text Association Type Source InteractionID
Bees
Leaf-cutting bees Dianthidium simile Floral Visitor Link
Leaf-cutting bees Dianthidium simile Suspected Pollinator Floral Link
Honey bees Apis mellifera Floral Visitor Link
Bumble bees Bombus Floral Visitor Link
Masked bees Colletidae Floral Visitor Link
Sweat bees Halictidae Floral Visitor Link
Butterflies & Moths
Skippers Hesperiidae Floral Visitor Link
Brush-footed butterflies Nymphalidae Floral Visitor Link
Flies
Bee flies Bombyliidae Floral Visitor Link
Syrphid flies Syrphidae Floral Visitor Link
Other
Square-headed wasps Crabronidae Floral Visitor Link
Potter wasps Vespidae Floral Visitor Link

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