Safflowers and Similar Species

Common Safflower Downy Safflower Common Safflower Giant Knapweed

What are they?

Safflowers are thistle-like members of the Asteraceae, the huge family that includes all plants with a clustered 'moptop' of flowers above a basal section of greenish or brownish, scale-like bracts called phyllaries. This page also includes a yellow species of knapweed, which has a similar general appearance to the safflowers, but is much larger.

Where are they found?

None of the species on this page is native to the UK, so if found, they are most likely to be on waste ground, roadsides banks or in urban places.

Identification

The flowers of the true safflowers are rather similar, but identification os easy based on the very different leaves. As with most members of the Asteraceae, always remember to check the appearance of the phyllaries at the base of the compound flower head.



Common Safflower      Carthamus tinctorius

Introduced from southern Europe. Occasionally included in sown 'wildflower' mixes or sometimes appearing spontaneously from spilt bird seed, but never becoming established. Flowers July to September. The basal part of the flowerhead is swollen and covered in broad, leaf-like phyllaries with spiked tips. Leaves are broadly oval and the whole plant is more or less hairless. The petals become deep, orange-brown as they wither after flowering.

Common Safflower Common Safflower Common Safflower Common Safflower
Habit
Flowerhead
Leaf
Seedhead


Downy Safflower      Carthamus lanatus

Introduced from southern Europe. Occasionally included in sown 'wildflower' mixes or sometimes appearing spontaneously from spilt bird seed, but never becoming established. Flowers July to September. The basal part of the flowerhead is swollen and covered in narrow, spike-like phyllaries. Leaves are strongly toothed or lobed and the whole plant has downy, white hairs.

Downy Safflower Downy Safflower
Habit
Flowerhead


Giant Knapweed      Centaurea macrocephala

Introduced from the Caucasus as a garden ornamental and recorded in the region on just a handful of occasions, although seeming not to persist in the wild for long. Flowers July to September. A tall, large-flowered species, regularly growing to a metre in height.

Giant Knapweed Giant Knapweed Giant Knapweed Giant Knapweed
Habit
Flowerhead
Phyllaries
Leaf