Native to North America, and found throughout the eastern seaboard states south to Florida, and west to Texas. It also occurs in Nevada.
A winter to spring annual or occasionally a biennial that reproduces from seeds. This is a common roadside weed, and will be found in most sandy soils in disturbed sites, as well as pastures and fields.
Mature plants may be over 5 feet in height, with a thick, tough stem that branches near the top to produce the large flower heads. Leaves are very long and deeply lobed, the lobes being narrow and pointed, and with long spines liberally placed along the back of the mid-vein and at the tips of the leaf lobes. The flowers range from the usual violet to purple to the more uncommon yellowish color and occur at the ends of the stems. These very large flower heads are composed only of the disc flowers, with the base enclosed in the spiny calyx. The seeds have long, soft hairs that allow them to be carried by the wind.
Physical removal may be the most effective for mature plants, as this removes the seeds as well, and even a dead plant that remains is a problem. A selective broadleaf herbicide is effective for weeds occurring in turf.