Wild Teasel

The dried spiny seedheads of Wild Teasel persist throughout the autumn and winter. They can be found in many habitats, including sand dunes, and are a good coloniser of waste ground.
Photo: Amanda Scott

Scientific name: Dipsacus fullonum

Other common names: Brushes and Combs, Venus’s Basin

Wild Teasel is a familiar plant of damp and disturbed grasslands, with its spiny egg-shaped purple flowerheads, tall (≤2 m) prickly stems and upward-curving bracts. A biennial, the flowers are produced in its second year, from July to August. It is often one of the first plants to colonise disturbed ground. Widely distributed in the midlands and south of Britain, it is less upiquitous further to the north and in Cornwall.

A favourite dried plant with florists for winter decoration, the seedheads, which are retained through the winter, were once used as a very effective way of carding wool and removing dust from clothing.

The large leaves grow in opposite pairs, with the base of each pair forming a cup-like structure that captures rainwater: this serves as a protection from being eaten by invertebrates, which will drown if they fall into the ‘cup’ of water. It is this characteristic that gives the plant its alternative common name of Venus’s Basin, derived from the Roman name for the plant of lavacrum Veneris.

Did you know…?

…The common name of Teasel is a reference to the former use of its seedheads in carding wool, the process by which the separate wool fibres are teased apart prior to being spun (Old English teasan = to tease). The seedheads of a cultivated subspecies, Fuller’s Teasel (D. sativus), are still used for cloth that needs a very fine pile, such as the baize on billiards tables, as we have not yet invented anything that beats the small but flexible spikes (Mabey, 1997).

…Washing in rainwater collected from Teasel leaves was once thought to be a cure for freckles, and was also traditionally used to soothe sore eyes.

More information and references:

Bates, R. and Scolding, B., 2002. Wild Flowers of The Lizard. Cornwall County Council, Cornwall.

Mabey, R., 1997. Flora Britannica. Chatto & Windus, London.

Rose, F. and O’Reilly, C., 2006. The Wild Flower Key, 2nd edition. Frederick Warne, London.

Stace, C., 2010. New Flora of the British Isles, 3rd edition. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Published: October 2013
Author: Amanda Scott
Photos: Amanda Scott