MUSK THISTLE, Carduus nutans L. 1, upper part of stem; 2, portion of stem showing leaf attachment; 3, seed. Biennial, large, coarse plant. Stem erect, spiny, with spiny wings, 3 to 6 feet (0.9 to 1.8 m) tall, lower portion branched. Stems and branches densely covered with short hairs. Leaves alternate, coarsely toothed, extending down the stem, very spiny. Flower heads as much as 2 inches (5 cm) across, on the ends of long, nearly naked stems, frequently drooping or nodding; flowers purple or lavender; spiny-tipped bracts surrounding the head. Seeds about 3/16 inch (4.5 mm) long, glossy yellowish-brown; pappus hairlike. Found in pastures, meadows, and waste areas. Considerable variation may be found because this species is a polymorphic complex, with numerous semidistinct phases.