A tall biennial herb of fields, hedgerows, rubbish tips and other waste places, often near market gardens and farm buildings, and perhaps dispersed to new sites with manure or contaminated straw. 0-330 m (near Alston, Cumberland).
There is archaeological evidence for the presence of O. acanthium in Britain from the Iron Age onwards. It appears to have increased in frequency since the 1962 Atlas, possibly as an escape from gardens where it is frequently grown for ornament.
As an archaeophyte O. acanthium has a Eurosiberian Temperate distribution; it is widely naturalised outside this range.