Carduus nutans L., Sp. pl. 2:821. 1753 (Syn: Ascalea nutans (L.) Hill; Carduus armenus Boiss.; Carduus coloratus Tamamsch.; Carduus nutans var. armenus Boiss. ……; Carduus phyllolepis Willk.; Carduus schischkinii Tamamsch.; Carduus songoricus (C.Winkl. ex C.Winkl.) Tamamsch.; Carduus thoermeri subsp. armenus (Boiss.) Kazmi);
Carduus nutans, with the common names Musk thistle, Nodding thistle, and Nodding plumeless thistle, is a biennial herb in the Asteraceae—sunflower family. It is native to regions of Europe and Asia. 
Carduus nutans is usually a biennial, requiring 2 years to complete a reproductive cycle. However, it may germinate and flower in a single year in warmer climates. Seedlings may emerge at any time from spring to late summer and develop a rosette. Plants overwinter in the rosette stage, sending up a multi-branched flowering stem in mid spring of their second year.
Mature plants range in height from 1–1.5 metres (3.3–4.9 ft) tall and have multi-branched stems. Musk thistle has sharply spiny stems and leaves. The stem is cottony/hairy. The plants develop a rosette, with large leaves 30–60 centimetres (12–24 in) long.
The leaves are dark green, coarsely bipinnately lobed, with a smooth, waxy surface and sharp yellow-brown to whitish spines at the tips of the lobes.They are more or less hairy on top, and wooly on the veins below.
The plant bears showy red-purple flowers. The large globose flower heads, containing hundreds of tiny individual flowers, are 3–5 cm (rarely to 7 cm) diameter and occur at the tips of stems. The flower heads commonly droop to a 90° to 120° angle from the stem when mature, hence its alternate name of “Nodding thistle“. Each plant may produce thousands of straw-colored seeds adorned with plume-like bristles. They are 4 to 6 cm across, with purple-red bracts.
The number of flowerheads per plant is site-dependent and ranges from about 20-50 on good sites and 1-20 on poor sites. Flowering occurs from late spring to late summer, and seed dissemination occurs approximately one month after the flowers form. A single flower head may produce 1,200 seeds and a single plant up to 120,000 seeds, which are wind dispersed. The seeds may remain viable in the soil for over ten years, making it a difficult plant to control.
(From Wikipedia on 20.7.13)
Pith of stem – boiled. A pleasant taste, it is eaten like asparagus. Said to be delicious. The dried flowers are used as a curdling agent for plant milks etc[61, 183].
The flowers are febrifuge and are used to purify the blood[145, 240]. The seeds contain a fixed oil that is rich in linoleic acid. This has proved of benefit in the prevention of atherosclerosis.
The down of the plant is used to make paper. The seed of all species of thistles yields a good oil by expression. This species contains 41 – 44% oil.
(From PFAF )
Asteraceae Fortnight Part 3-Ligulate Heads (and Misc.): Carduus nutans L. from Gurnee etc. Illinois,US SC 11 : Attachments (6). 3 posts by 2 authors.
This good looking Musk thistle is declared a noxious weed in many U.S. states, Canadian provinces, South Africa, New Zealand, and Australia. In agricultural systems the contagious nature and large rosette size of musk thistle populations results in competition with crops for space, nutrients, and light.
Carduus nutans L. (Musk thistle)
Musk Thistle has very showy and fragrant flowerheads, while its foliage is quite spiny. Until the nodding flowerheads are produced, it can be difficult to distinguish from other thistles. Photographs are taken from different parts of Illinois in June-July, 2013.
Beautiful photographs and nice presentation.