top of page
Resources |  Coastal Flora and Fauna
Pitchers Thistle 


For most of the Pitchers Thistle life it has slender stem and leaves covered in a white fuzz. The plant can reach one meter in height with grayish-green leaves that are divided into spine-tipped, narrow sections (see imagine on the left). 

The Pitchers Thistle will flower once in its lifetime. When it does, it can produce 2-125 small pink or creamy white flower heads (see imagine on the right). This provides nectar for bees and other insects. The seeds are white and fluffy so it can be carried by the wind some distance from the parent plant. It can take 12 years for the Pitchers Thistle to flower and drop its seed before it dies. This makes re-population of this plant very difficult. 

Pitchers Thistle - Alan Woodliffe photo.
Otfinowski_Pitchers Thistle 2.JPG
pitchers thistle distribution map.gif

Location and Habitat

Pitchers Thistle grows in windblown sandy habitats, which makes the Lake Huron’s coastal sand and dune ecosystem a perfect growing place this plant. The Pitchers Thistle has a special relationship to windy lake habitats. When the plant is disturbed by wind it buries into the ground which helps establish a root system.

The global population of Pitchers Thistle is found in the Great Lake Basin. It only grows in sandy environments around Lake Huron, Lake Michigan, and Lake Superior. In Ontario Pitchers Thistles growth is limited to 30 sites; 3 on 3 on Lake Huron shoreline south of Bruce Peninsula, two on Lake Superior and the rest is found in the Manitoulin region.  


Watch the video below to learn more about the thriving Pitchers Thistle population on Manitoulin Island

Importance of the Pitchers Thistle 

Pitcher Thistle sightings are a sign of a healthy sand and dune ecosystem. Its roots are part of the native vegetation that grows in dune ecosystems. Having an established root system on dunes limits sand erosion and helps dunes stabilize into the ground. As stewards of the lake we are responsible for the survival of this threatened species. 

Human Threats

Habitat loss and degradation due to:

  • Urban development 

  • Excessive recreational use of beaches (ex. motorized vehicles)

  • Shoreline modifications that change the normal distribution of sand (ex. seawalls)

Natural Threat

  • White Tailed Deer 

Pitchers Thistle plant - 2 (cropped).jpg

How YOU Can Help!


  • Learn more about the the Pitchers Thistle and other endangered and threatened species. Understand how the destruction of habitat leads to loss of endangered and threatened species and Canada’s plant and animal diversity. Tell others about what you have learned

  • Join a conservation group active in local shore conservation

  • Do not landscape over Pitcher Thistle habitat

  • Do not use motorized vehicles on beaches

  • Look out for and remove invasive dune species

  • Plant pollinating flowers

  • Volunteer at the Coastal Centre as a Green Ribbon Champion


Thriving Dunes Leads to a Thriving Habitat for Pitchers Thistles


Threatened species along Lake Huron depend on sand and dune ecosystems for their survival. When coastal dune ecosystems are put at risk, we are not giving these species a fighting chance.

This is what YOU can do to help dune ecosystems that provide critical habitats for species along Lake Huron:

  • Avoid removing or damaging dune vegetation. Roots prevent sand erosion and hold the dune in place during times of strong weather or erosion

  • When accessing beaches, use an already established pathway

  • Do not use motorized vehicles on beaches. It can instantly destroy an ecosystem that took years to develop.

  • Limit beach grooming to once a season if it is necessary.

  • Donate time or resources to the Green Ribbion Champion program

Additional Resources

Learn more about the Pitcher Thistle 

Find native pollinating flowers 

Lean more about beach and dune ecosystems on Lake Huron

bottom of page