Dipsacus fullonum

Wild scarlet

Dipsacus fullonum


Biennial plant, with robust tap root, erect, tubular stems, forked at the apex, furrowed, with soft, patent thorns, reaches 2 m in height.
The basal leaves in an oblong-suboval rosette have thorns on the central vein, on the lower surface and sometimes also on the upper one. The cauline leaves are opposite, welded 2 by 2 at the base (connate), wide lanceolate, the margins, the central rib and the upper surface are spiny and toothed.
The whitish or mauve-colored flowers are gathered in oval flower heads, surrounded by spiny linear bracts that are longer than the flowers. The corollas have a more developed upper lobe than the other three; among the flowers there are numerous acute protruding bracts.
Flowering begins at the equator of the ovoid-receptacle, and then continues towards the opposite poles.
The temporal and progressive lag from anthesis is a vegetal strategy that favors fertilization.
The fruits are small elongated achenes, with a square shell, 4 teeth on the corners and a cup-shaped calyx.
In the Dipsacus genus, the stiffening and elongation of the bracts, to the point of forming a hook, together with the habitus similar to that of the Thistles, make it possible for the achenes to catapult when the plant is touched by animals.

Organic form

H bienn - Biennial hemicryptophytes. Biennial cycle plants with buds placed at ground level. T scap - Scapose therophytes. Annual plants with elongated floral axis, often without leaves.

Flowering period

July August


The name of the genus derives from the Greek "dípsa" = thirst, it refers to the basin that the connate leaves form near their insertion on the stem, in this small basin, rainwater collects; the specific name refers to the inflorescence, indicating the place where the finishing of fabrics was carried out in the Middle Ages, "fullonica".

Environment and Distribution

Common plan of roadsides, uncultivated places, ditches and rubble, 0÷1,400 m above sea level

Global Distribution

Euri-Medit. - Entity with an area centered on the Mediterranean coasts, but with extensions towards the north and east (Vine area). Steno-Medit. - Mediterranean entity in the strict sense (with an area limited to the Mediterranean coasts: Olivo area).

Distribution Map

Properties and Uses

Officinal species

Main constituents: glycoside, scabioside, organic acids, saponins.

The plant has sudorific, aperitif, diuretic and purifying properties. In the past, it was used in folk medicine as a remedy for chapped skin and in the treatment of anal fistulas.

Notes and Curiosities

The thistle has been used in wool processing since the most ancient times of Egyptian civilization; Charlemagne also mentions it in the Capitulars (812 AD), recommending the cultivation of "cardones" in the garden, alongside other crops for the "familia". Religious congregations, most likely responsible for the selection work, introduced cultivation in uncultivated lands and spread it widely in France. The cultivated species Dipsacus sativus (L.) Honck., is in fact derived from the selection made by man over the centuries on plants that had more uniform and compact flower heads and therefore more suitable for raising. This use, in Italy, led to the cultivation of thistles from the mid-19th century, by Sisto Bocci (owner of the Soci wool mill): French seeds were imported to improve their quality by increasing the size of the flower head. From that moment, due to a series of political circumstances that favored the development of a real textile industry in Italy, the related industrial cultivation of thistle also took off, becoming a permanent part of the Casentino cultivation system. The cultivation found its maximum expansion in the 50s-60s and the decline began with the increase in the cost of labor and the change in textile directions. The "garzi" (infructescences) are still used today to brush, eliminating the surface wad of wool fabrics, making them softer and shinier, in the processing of fine fabrics and the traditional "Panno del Casentino", to obtain the typical "curl" . In fact, the vegetable thistle, unlike those made of steel or plastic, also has thorns on the sides of the bracts and allows for finer processing.
Attention: Pharmaceutical applications and food uses are indicated for informational purposes only, we therefore decline any responsibility for their use for healing, aesthetic or food purposes.

Main Sources: infoflora And actaplantarum