Plants and Animals

Cirsium hillii Hill's thistle

species photo
Phyllis Higman
species photo
Elaine M. Chittendon
species photo
MNFI Staff
species photo
Michael R. Penskar
species photo
Gary Reese
species photo
Dennis A. Albert

Key Characteristics

Short, stout perennial thistle (30-60 cm) of pine barrens, oak savanna, prairie, forest openings, and glade habitats; young plants appearing only as a basal rosette with very shallowly lobed leaves; flower a single large pink head.

Status and Rank

US Status: No Status/Not Listed
State Status: SC - Special Concern (rare or uncertain; not legally protected)
Global Rank: G3 - Vulnerable
State Rank: S3 - Vulnerable


CountyNumber of OccurrencesYear Last Observed
Alcona 25 2022
Berrien 2 1932
Cass 2 1932
Cheboygan 4 1973
Chippewa 18 2023
Clare 1 1996
Crawford 53 2023
Grand Traverse 5 2009
Hillsdale 1 2014
Iosco 19 2007
Jackson 1 1896
Kalamazoo 1 1947
Kalkaska 11 2021
Lake 24 2023
Macomb 1 1896
Manistee 18 2011
Mason 13 2022
Menominee 2 1986
Montmorency 16 2008
Muskegon 2 2014
Newaygo 3 2007
Oakland 1 1896
Oceana 3 2009
Ogemaw 10 2023
Oscoda 57 2023
Otsego 10 2020
Presque Isle 4 2023
Roscommon 7 2005
St. Clair 1 1904
Van Buren 3 1939
Washtenaw 1 2023
Wexford 4 2021

Information is summarized from MNFI's database of rare species and community occurrences. Data may not reflect true distribution since much of the state has not been thoroughly surveyed.


Found primarily in pine barrens in northern Lower Michigan, but also occurring in other savanna and prairie types, openings within coniferous and oak forests, and on limestone pavement.

Natural Community Types

For each species, lists of natural communities were derived from review of the nearly 6,500 element occurrences in the MNFI database, in addition to herbarium label data for some taxa. In most cases, at least one specimen record exists for each listed natural community. For certain taxa, especially poorly collected or extirpated species of prairie and savanna habitats, natural community lists were derived from inferences from collection sites and habitat preferences in immediately adjacent states (particularly Indiana and Illinois). Natural communities are not listed for those species documented only from altered or ruderal habitats in Michigan, especially for taxa that occur in a variety of habitats outside of the state.

Natural communities are not listed in order of frequency of occurrence, but are rather derived from the full set of natural communities, organized by Ecological Group. In many cases, the general habitat descriptions should provide greater clarity and direction to the surveyor. In future versions of the Rare Species Explorer, we hope to incorporate natural community fidelity ranks for each taxon.

Associated Plants

Big and little bluestem, blazing star, rough fescue, pale agoseris, Alleghany plum, harebell, juniper, poverty grass, hair grass, western sunflower, Allegheny plum, prairie dropseed, cat's foot, Canadian milk vetch, sedges, Indian paintbrush, field chickweed, bastard toad flax, prairie smoke, ground juniper, bee-balm, and old field goldenrod.

Management Recommendations

Natural disturbance, particularly fire, is necessary to maintain the openings in pine barrens and other associated habitat required by this species. Plants may persist as vegetative rosettes in the absence of disturbance, and have been observed under relatively mature tree canopies, including pine plantations. However, openings are required to promote flowering, and fire also likely plays a key role in reducing litter and creating habitat for germination and colonization. This species thrives on moderate levels of soil disturbance such as light disking or furrowing, though such activities are detrimental to most other rare plants associated with barrens.

Survey Methods

Random meander search covers areas that appear likely to have rare taxa, based on habitat and the judgment of the investigator.

  • Meander search

    • Survey Period: From first week of June to fourth week of August


Survey References

  • Elzinga, C.L., D.W. Salzer, and J.W. Willoughby. 1998. Measuring and Monitoring Plant Populations. The Nature Conservancy and Bureau of Land Management, Denver. BLM Technical Reference 1730-1. 477pp.
  • Goff, G.F., G.A. Dawson, and J.J. Rochow. 1982. Site examination for Threatened and Endangered plant species. Environmental Management 6(4): 307-316
  • Nelson, J.R. 1984. Rare Plant Field Survey Guidelines. In: J.P. Smith and R. York. Inventory of rare and endangered vascular plants of California. 3rd Ed. California Native Plant Society, Berkeley. 174pp.
  • Nelson, J.R. 1986. Rare Plant Surveys: Techniques For Impact Assessment. Natural Areas Journal 5(3):18-30.
  • Nelson, J.R. 1987. Rare Plant Surveys: Techniques for Impact Assessment. In: Conservation and management of rare and endangered plants. Ed. T.S. Elias. California Native Plant Society, Sacramento. 8pp.

Technical References

  • Antonio, T.M. and S. Masi. 2001.The Sunflower Family in the Upper Midwest. A Photographic Guide to the Asteraceae in Illinois, Indianan, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin. Indiana Academy of Science, Indianapolis. 421pp.
  • Coffin, B. and L. Pfannmuller, eds. 1988. Minnesota's Endangered Flora and Fauna. University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis. 473pp.
  • Flora of North America Editorial Committee. 2006. Flora of North America, North of Mexico. Volume 19: Magnoliophyta: Asteridae (in part): Asteraceae, part 1. Oxford University Press, New York. 579pp.
  • Gleason, H. A., and A. Cronquist. 1991. Manual of Vascular Plants of Northeastern United States and Adjacent Canada. Second edition. The New York Botanical Garden, Bronx. 910pp.
  • Gray, A. 1950. Gray's Manual of Botany; eighth ed. Van Nostrand Reinghold, New York. 1632pp.
  • Holmgren, N.H. 1998. Illustrated Companion to Gleason and Cronquist's Manual. Illustrations of the vascular plants of Northeastern United States and adjacent Canada. New York Botanical Garden, Bronx. 937pp.
  • Swink, F. and G. Wilhelm. 1994. Plants of the Chicago Region, 4th ed. Indiana Academy of Science, Indianapolis. 921pp.
  • Voss, E.G. 1996. Michigan Flora. Part III. Dicots (Pyrolaceae-Compositae). Bulletin of the Cranbrook Institute of Science and University of Michigan Herbarium. 622pp.

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