6 Plants That Look Like Thistle

Thistles are quite pretty flowering plants that are common in most gardens and can sprout without warning and without planting them. Most thistle plants are wild and are spread by animals and birds. Animals and birds will walk or fly past a thistle, and the seeds will get tangled in their feathers or fur and travel with the animal until they fall off.

Alternatively, a strong wind will carry the thistle seeds away from the mother plant. The seed will sprout and grow when it is settled in a new location. This is generally how wild thistle plants spread.

Thistle plants are identified by their sharp prickles and sharp-looking flowers. These plants are mainly considered weeds when they grow in gardens as they can begin to take over the garden and grow in areas you don’t want them to be in.

However, there are some gardeners that enjoy the look of thistles and are happy to have them in their gardens. Thistles can be more than just a weed in gardens, as these plants provide great support for wildlife in your area.

Thistles are particularly good for pollinators like bees, bumblebees, and butterflies, as they provide a good source of nectar for these creatures, which helps them thrive in their environment. Thistle seeds are also a great food source for birds.

Animals are not the only things that benefit from thistles, as some of these plants can also be a food source for humans and provide good nutrients to those that eat them. However, not everyone wants to grow thistles or can grow thistles in their garden due to various reasons.

If this is you, but you enjoy the look of thistles or like how they help the wildlife in your area, then there are thistle-like plants that you can grow instead.

Thistles can be excellent plants to have in your garden, but they can become a nuisance and overtake your garden if you don’t control them properly. This is why many people pull thistles from their gardens when they find them, even though thistles offer a lot to the wildlife in the area.

There are several plants that have the same look as thistles and provide the same help to the wildlife that you can plant in your garden. These plants are generally less likely to take over your garden and harm your other plants compared to thistles.

Most of these thistle-like plants are just as hardy as thistles and have similar, if not identical, care requirements as thistles, making them pretty easy to care for. Let’s go through the most common plants that look like thistles that you can choose to have in your garden.

1. Basket Flower

Centaurea americana
Xaf Centaurea americana

Basket flowers are stunning plants that look almost identical to thistles, especially when you look at them from a distance. Basket flowers are wildflowers, but you can buy seeds from local plant nurseries and plant them in your garden if you want them.

The flowers that bloom from this plant carry the same color profile and look like thistle flowers. Basket flowers don’t have the same prickly characteristics as thistles, making them easier to work within your garden.

These plants are fragrant, and they will help the wildlife in your area in the same way thistle plants do, and they will especially attract butterflies to your garden. Bucket flowers are hardy plants and have the same care requirements as thistles.

2. Miss Willmott’s Ghost

Miss Willmotts ghost
Patrick Standish Miss Willmotts ghost

Miss Willmott’s ghost is another beautiful plant that has very similar characteristics to thistles, making them easy to misidentify. When this plant flowers, it produces a spiny collar of leaves surrounding an egg-shaped flower. These leaves are silvery-white, and the flower is pale green until it begins to mature.

Once the flower matures, it takes on a dazzling steel-blue color that will catch the eye of anyone who enters your garden. These plants are extremely easy to look after, as they require very little from you to thrive. They are also pest-free plants that will not attract any unwanted bugs to your garden.

Miss Willmott’s ghost is also excellent for pollinators in your area, as they provide a lot of nectar that they can use. If you would like a plant that looks like a thistle and has all benefits of thistle plants, then this is the plant for you.

3. Common Knapweed

Common Knapweed
Andy Underscore Common Knapweed

Common Knapweed is a thistle-like plant frequently found growing wild in grasslands around the country. This plant has purple flowers that closely resemble those of thistles, and these flowers will attract a number of creatures to your garden, especially butterflies.

This is a wild plant, but you can find seeds for it at local plant nurseries should you wish to plant them in your garden. These plants give your garden a lovely natural look and help add color, making your garden look vibrant.

Common Knapweed plants have the same care requirements as most thistles, making them easy to care for in your garden. They can spread if you don’t keep an eye on them, but not to the extent that thistles do.

4. Globe Artichoke

Globe Artichoke
Paul Conneally Globe Artichoke

This might seem shocking to some, but the globe artichoke is a thistle-like plant. The globe artichoke belongs to the Cynara plant family, which is a plant family that looks similar to thistles. This is a great plant to have in your garden if you want a thistle-like plant that can also benefit you as well as the local wildlife.

Globe artichokes are safe for humans to eat and excellent plants for pollinators. If you want to eat these plants, the flower bud is only edible before the flower blooms. So, you will need to ensure your timing is right.

Globe artichokes are easy to look after and have similar care requirements to thistles. If you are a beginner plant enthusiast and like thistles, this is the plant lookalike for you.

5. Cardoon Plants

Julian Walker Cardoon

The cardoon plant is the ancestor plant of the globe artichoke, meaning they are closely related and have very similar features. This plant looks almost exactly like a thistle, except it’s not as prickly. Cardoon plants are also called wild artichokes and are quite common to see growing in wild fields and grasslands.

The flower buds that haven’t bloomed and the stems of the cardoon are safe to eat and can be used in many recipes. These plants have similar care requirements to thistles, making them easy to care for, and they are excellent for pollinators.

6. Sea Hollies

Sea Holly
Andrew Sea Holly

One of the plants that look the most like thistles is, by far, the sea holly. These plants are spiky like thistles and can create a dramatic look in your garden if this is your style. Sea hollies are great garden plants that complement many other plants, making your garden look full and complete.

These plants are hardy and can thrive in conditions other plants may struggle with, making them extremely easy to care for. These plants will not spread as much as thistles, so your garden will stay clean and healthy.

There are a few types of sea hollies you can choose from, each with its own color pallet, so you are bound to find one that suits your garden perfectly. These plants are wildlife friendly and will help pollinators do their jobs well, which will help the environment.

These plants are beautiful and will make a good addition to your garden if you are looking for plants that look like thistles. You can find seeds for sea hollies at local plant nurseries.