by Stephen Mifsud
   25 Jul 2024      ()
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Atractylis cancellata   (Cage Thistle)

Atractylis cancellata  (ASTERACEAE.) 
Images for this profile are taken from the Maltese Islands after year 2000.

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Profile Date Jun-2011 (taxon update: none)
Citation for this page Mifsud, S. (2022). Atractylis cancellata - datasheet created on Jun-2011. Retrieved from on 25-Jul-2024

Nomenclature and Basic Information

Species name :

Atractylis cancellataL.
Published in Sp. Pl. : 830 (1753)

Synonyms :
(basionym or principal syn.)

Carthamus cancellatus Lam.
Full list of synonyms : [Euro+Med] [PlantList] [IPNI] [POWO] [Catalogue of Life] []

Plant Family :

Asteraceae Bercht. & J.Presl (=Compositae) (The Daisy or Sunflower Family)
123 species from the Asteraceae family are recorded from the Maltese Islands.

English name(s) :

Cage Thistle

Maltese name(s) :

Xewk tal-gaġġa

Status for Malta :

Indigenous. Present on the Maltese islands before man

Frequency :

Very Common     Common    Frequent     Scarce     Rare    Very rare    Extinct

Growth form :

Raunkiaer lifeform [info]: THEROPHYTE ( annual plants, herbaceous )
Germination [info]: Dicotyledon

Legal Protection :

Protected by law: Schedule VI of [S.L. 549.44] (strictly protected species)

Red List (1989) :

Threatened status for the Maltese Islands and has been listed in the Red Data Book (1st ed.)

Flowering Time :

April – May

Colour of Flowers:

Violet or Pink


Not particularly toxic

Name Derivation :

Atractylis: From Atraktos meaning spindle referring to the long spines present on the involucral bracts around the flower. (Greek origin )
cancellata: Latticed. (Latin origin )

Planting in rural areas :

Can be planted in rural areas according to ERA Guidelines

Remarks :

A rare and declining species due to habitat loss and which may face extinction from the Maltese Islands if its habitat is not safeguarded. Atractylis cancellata is a short plant (about 5-12cm ) and is negatively effected by high weedy vegetation (ruderals, ermes, invasive alien species, etc.) spreading in low garigue and steppe. Thanks to Mr. Darrin Stevens for stating a location where he found a small population of this species in Malta back in the mid 90's. On visiting this site on the 7th June 2011, only 2 specimens were found.

Description, Habitat and Distribution
Habitat in Europe: Data will be available in the next update of this website.
Preferred habitat in Malta: Exposed arid rocky ground
Botanical Description: Slender annual; stems 3-30 cm, white-lanate, glabrescent. Leaves greenish, arachnoid-pubescent; basal up to 50 x 8 mm, oblong-obovate to spathulate dentate, shortly spiny; cauline up to 30 x 6 mm, oblong-lanceolate, dentate, spiny. Involucre 5-20 x 5-15 mm, surrounded by upper leaves; outer involucral bracts erect, with acicular-subulate, excurrent rhachis; middle and inner bracts very unequal, lanceolate, acute, subulate, more or less lanate. Achenes 3-4 x 1.5-2 mm; pappus 8-10 mm, white.
Distributional range: Mediterranean region, S. Portugal

Distributional map in Europe
and the Mediterranean region (2018):
Occurrences in Europe.
(from Flora Europaea pre year 1993):
the Balaeric Islands, Crete, France (incl. Monaco and Channel Islands but excluding Corse), Greece, Spain (incl. Andorra but excl. the Balaerics), Italy (excl. Sicily and Sardignia), ex-Jugoslavia, Portugal, Sardinia, Sicily and/or Malta
Occurrences in Europe and the Mediterranean region.
(from Euro+Med Checklist, 2019)
  Country codes  
AE(G) Ag Bl(I M N) dCa(C F G L P T) Cr Cy Eg Ga(F) †Ga(M) Gr Hs(G S) Ir It Jo Le Li Lu Ma Mk Sa Si(M S) Sn Sy Tn Tu(A)

Links & Further literature (0 papers)

Google Web

Google Images

Google Scholar

Research Gate




Med Checklist

Cat. of Life



World Flora Online

Plants of the World Online

Vienna Virt. Herb.

RBGE Herbarium

KEW Herbarium




Kindly Email if there are papers and publications about local studies or information about this species to be included in the list above.

Species Images (3 images)
   Atractylis cancellata   -   Image Code: ATYCN-0.
   Atractylis cancellata   -   Image Code: ATYCN-1.
   Atractylis cancellata   -   Image Code: ATYCN-2.

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Section B:   Where have you seen this plant on the Maltese Islands?
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