by Stephen Mifsud
   3 Mar 2024      ()
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Xanthium spinosum   (Spiny Cocklebur)

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

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Profile Date Jul-2009 (taxon update: none)
Citation for this page Mifsud, S. (2022). Xanthium spinosum - datasheet created on Jul-2009. Retrieved from on 03-Mar-2024

Nomenclature and Basic Information

Species name :

Xanthium spinosumL.
Published in Sp. Pl. : 987 (1753)

Synonyms :
(basionym or principal syn.)

Acanthoxanthium spinosum Fourr.
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) :

Spiny Cocklebur

Maltese name(s) :

Maltese name not known

Status for Malta :

Persisting Alien. Introduced species for horticulture (flowering plants) or agriculture (herbs or fruiting trees) usually within the last 2 centuries and persist after their original location or site is abandoned. They do not widespread but usually remain as a single tree or a very localised population.

Frequency :

Very Common     Common    Frequent     Scarce     Rare    Very rare     Extinct

Growth form :

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

Legal Protection :

Not legally protected till the last update of this website (2/Mar/2022)

Red List (1989) :

Not listed in the Red Data Book of the Maltese Islands

Flowering Time :

June – August

Colour of Flowers:



Not particularly toxic

Name Derivation :

Xanthium: An old name applied by Dioscorides (40 - 90 AD) to a cockbur plant where a yellow hair dye was extracted. (Greek origin )

Planting in rural areas :

Can be planted in rural areas according to ERA Guidelines

Remarks :

A casual alien species that was not seen in Malta for several decades and consequently believed to be extinct. Specimens were found by the author in Jun 2009

Description, Habitat and Distribution
Habitat in Europe: Ruderal species often encountered in waste places.
Preferred habitat in Malta: Rocky valley beds
Botanical Description: Sp. Pl. 1: 987 (1753). Stems 15-100 cm, much branched, with 1-2 stout, 3-fid, yellow spines in the leaf-axils, the spines rarely more or less connate at the base or replaced by leaf fascicles. Leaves sessile or shortly petiolate; lamina entire or 3- to 5-fid, dark green above, white- or grey-tomentose beneath. Male capitula in terminal inflorescences, the female axillary. Involucre 10-12 x 6-8 mm in fruit, covered with slender spines.
Chromosome number: 2n=36
Distributional range: Naturalized in C. & S. Europe casual further north

Distributional map in Europe
and the Mediterranean region (2018):
Occurrences in Europe.
(from Flora Europaea pre year 1993):
Introduced in Albania, Austria and Liechtenstein, the Azores, the Balaeric Islands, Bulgaria, Corse, Crete, Czeck Republic and Slovakia, France (incl. Monaco and Channel Islands but excluding Corse), Germany, Greece, Switzerland, Spain (incl. Andorra but excl. the Balaerics), Hungary, Italy (excl. Sicily and Sardignia), ex-Jugoslavia, Portugal, Poland, Romania, Russia and former USSR, Sardinia, Sicily and/or Malta, Turkey (European part)
Occurrences in Europe and the Mediterranean region.
(from Euro+Med Checklist, 2019)
  Country codes  
[nAb(A) AE(G T) nAg nAl nAr nAu(A) nAz Az(F M) aBe(B L) nBH nBl(I M N) Br nBu nCa(C F L T) nCg nCo nCr nCs nCt nCy Da nEg nEs nGa(F) aGe Gg nGr nHe aHo nHs(A S) Hs(G) nHu nIJ nIr nIt Jo nJu aLa nLe nLi nLS aLt nLu nMa nMk nMo nPo nRf(C CS E S) nRm nSa Si(M) nSi(S) nSk nSl nSn aSr nSy nTcs nTn nTu(A E) Uk(K U)]

Links & Further literature (0 papers)

Google Web

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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 (6 images)
   Xanthium spinosum   -   Image Code: XNTSP-0.
   Xanthium spinosum   -   Image Code: XNTSP-1.
   Xanthium spinosum   -   Image Code: XNTSP-2.
   Xanthium spinosum   -   Image Code: XNTSP-3.
   Xanthium spinosum   -   Image Code: XNTSP-4.
   Xanthium spinosum   -   Image Code: XNTSP-5.

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