Carlina is a genus of flowering plants in the aster family, Asteraceae.[3][4] It is distributed from Madeira and the Canary Islands across Europe and northern Africa to Siberia and northwestern China.[5][6][7]

The genus name Carlina honors the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V (1500-1558).[8] Plants of the genus are known commonly as carline thistles.[9][10]


Carlina species are very similar to true thistles in morphology,[5] and are part of the thistle tribe, Cynareae. Most are biennial herbs, but the genus includes annuals, perennials, shrubs, and dwarf trees, as well. The largest reach about 80 centimeters tall. The stems are upright and branching or unbranched. The whole plant is spiny. The leaves have toothed or lobed blades with spiny edges and sometimes woolly hairs. The flower heads are solitary or borne in inflorescences. The head is hemispherical to bell-shaped and lined with several layers of spiny phyllaries. The outer phyllaries may be very long and leaflike. It contains tubular or funnel-shaped disc florets in shades of yellow or red. The fruit is a hairy cypsela with a plumelike pappus made up of tufts of bristles.[8]


Carlina species have been used as herbal remedies in European systems of traditional medicine.[11] C. acaulis root is known as Carlinae radix and is still used medicinally as a diuretic and a treatment for such conditions as skin lesions and rashes, catarrh, and toothache. Most commercial preparations of Carlinae radix are not C. acaulis, but are in fact adulterated with C. acanthifolia, a related species. The essential oil of both species is mostly composed of carlina oxide, an acetylene derivative. The compound has antimicrobial activity.[12]

Taxonomy and relationships

Carlina is closely related to the genus Atractylis. Together they are a sister group to the genus Atractylodes in the subtribe Carlininae.[2] Carlina has been divided into five subgenera: Carlina, Carlowizia, Heracantha, Lyrolepis, and Mitina.[5]

Carlina canariensis

There are about 28[5][8] to 34[2] species in the genus.

  1. Carlina acanthifolia
  2. Carlina acaulis – stemless carline thistle
  3. Carlina atlantica
  4. Carlina balfouris
  5. Carlina barnebiana
  6. Carlina biebersteinii
  7. Carlina brachylepis
  8. Carlina canariensis
  9. Carlina comosa
  10. Carlina corymbosa (syn. C. curetum) – clustered carline thistle
  11. Carlina curetum
  12. Carlina diae
  13. Carlina frigida
  14. Carlina graeca
  15. Carlina guittonneaui
  16. Carlina gummifera – stemless atractylis
  17. Carlina hispanica
  18. Carlina involucrata
  19. Carlina kurdica
  20. Carlina lanata – wooly carline thistle
  21. Carlina libanotica
  22. Carlina macrocephala
  23. Carlina macrophylla
  24. Carlina nebrodensis
  25. Carlina oligocephala
  26. Carlina pygmaea
  27. Carlina racemosa
  28. Carlina salicifolia
  29. Carlina sicula – Sicilian carline thistle
  30. Carlina sitiensis
  31. Carlina tragacanthifolia
  32. Carlina vayredrae
  33. Carlina vulgaris – common carline thistle
  34. Carlina xeranthemoides