Greater knapweed is found growing in dry grasslands, hedgerows and cliffs on lime-rich soil. Upright branched stems terminate in single thistle-like flowerheads, each having an outer ring of extended, purple-pink 'ragged' bracts which form a crown around the central flowers. The plant has deeply dissected leaves which form a clump at the base.
This species is very valuable to bees. It is also a magnet for many species of butterfly. Among them is the Marbled White.
This is the only known foodplant for caterpillars of the Coleophoridae case-bearer moth Coleophora didymella. Centaurea scabiosa has been used in traditional herbal healing as either a vulnerary or an emollient.
The plant is sometimes confused with Devils-bit Scabious, however the leaves on this plant are arranged alternately, whereas in Devils-bit they are opposite.