(Sonchus arvensis) Chicory family

Flower-heads - Bright yellow, very showy, to 2 in. across,

several or numerous, on rough peduncles in a spreading cluster.

Involucre nearly 1 in. high; the scales narrow, rough. Stem: 2 to

4 ft. high, leafy below, naked, and paniculately branched above,

from deep roots and creeping rootstocks. Leaves: Long, narrow,

spiny, but not sharp-toothed; deeply cut, mostly clasping at


Preferred Habitat - Meadows, fields, roadsides, saltwater


Flowering Season - July-October.

Distribution - Newfoundland to Minnesota and Utah, south to New


It cannot be long, at their present rate of increase, before this

and its sister immigrant become very common weeds throughout our

entire area, as they are in Europe and Asia.

The ANNUAL SOW-THISTLE or HARE'S LETTUCE (S. oleraceus), its

smaller, pale yellow flower-heads, with smooth involucres more

closely grouped, now occupies our fields and waste places with

the assurance of a native. Honeybees chiefly, but many other

bees, wasps, brilliant little flower-flies (Syrphidae), and

butterflies among other winged visitors which alight on the

flowers, from May to November, are responsible for the copious,

soft, fine, white-plumed seeds that the winds waft away to fresh

colonizing ground. The leaves clasp the stem by deep ear-like or

arrow-shaped lobes, or the large lower ones are on petioles,

lyrate-pinnatifid, the terminal division commonly large and

triangular; the margins all toothed. Frugal European peasants use

them as a potherb or salad. One of the plant's common folk-names

in the Old World is hare's palace. According to the "Grete

Herbale," if "the hare come under it, he is sure no beast can

touch hym!' That was the spot Brer Rabbit was looking for when

Brer Fox lay low! Another early writer declares that "when hares

are overcome with heat they eat of an herb called hare's-lettuce,

hare's-house, hare's-palace; and there is no disease in this

beast the cure whereof she does not seek for in this herb." Who

has detected our cottontails nibbling the succulent leaves?


(Lactuca Canadensis) Chicory family

Flower-heads - Numerous small, about 1/4 in. across, involucre

cylindric, rays pale yellow; followed by abundant, soft, bright

white pappus; the heads growing in loose, branching, terminal

clusters. Stem: Smooth, 3 to 10 ft. high, leafy up to the flower

panicle; juice milky. Leaves: Upper ones lance shaped; lower ones

often 1 ft. long, wavy-lobed, often pinnatifid, taper pointed,

narrowed into flat petioles.

Preferred Habitat - Moist, open ground; roadsides.

Flowering Season - June-November.

Distribution - Georgia, westward to Arkansas, north to the

British Possessions.

Few gardeners allow the table lettuce (sativa) to go to seed but

as it is next of kin to this common wayside weed, it bears a

strong likeness to it in the loose, narrow panicles of

cream-colored flowers, followed by more charming, bright white

little pompons. Where the garden varieties originated, or what

they were, nobody knows. Herodotus says lettuce was eaten as a

salad in 550 B.C.; in Pliny's time it was cultivated, and even

blanched, so as to be had at all seasons of the year by the

Romans. Among the privy-purse expenses of Henry VIII is a reward

to a certain gardener for bringing "lettuze" and cherries to

Hampton Court. Quaint old Parkinson, enumerating "the vertues of

the lettice," says, "They all cool a hot and fainting stomache."

When the milky juice has been thickened (lactucarium), it is

sometimes used as a substitute for opium by regular practitioners

- a fluid employed by the plants themselves, it is thought, to

discourage creatures from feasting at their expense (see

milkweed). Certain caterpillars, however, eat the leaves readily;

but offer lettuce or poppy foliage to grazing cattle, and they

will go without food rather than touch it.

"What's one man's poison, Signor,

Is another's meat or drink."

Rabbits, for example, have been fed on the deadly nightshade for

a week without injury.

The HAIRY or RED WILD LETTUCE (L. hirsuta), similar to the

preceding, but often with dark reddish stem, peduncles, and tiny

flower-cups, the ray florets varying from yellow to pale reddish

or purplish, has longer leaves, deeply cut or lobed almost to the

wide midrib. After what we learned when studying the barberry and

the prickly pear cactus, for example, about plants that choose to

live in dry soil, it is not surprising to find that this is a

lower, less leafy, and more hairy plant than the moisture-loving

tall lettuce.

An European immigrant, naturalized here but recently, the PRICKLY

LETTUCE (L. Scariola) has nevertheless made itself so very much

at home in a short time that it has already become a troublesome

weed from New England to Pennsylvania, westward to Minnesota and

Missouri. But when we calculate that every plant produces over

eight thousand fluffy white-winged seeds on its narrow panicle,

ready to sail away on the first breeze, no wonder so well endowed

and prolific an invader marches triumphantly across continents.

The long, pale green, spiny-margined, milky leaves, with stiff

prickles on the midrib beneath, are doubly protected against

insect borers and grazing cattle.

"Look at this delicate plant that lifts its head from the


See how its leaves all point to the North as true as the


While Longfellow must have had the coarse-growing,

yellow-flowered, daisy-like PRAIRIE ROSIN-WEED (Silphium

laciniatum) in mind when he wrote this stanza of "Evangeline,"

his lines apply with more exactness to the delicate prickly

lettuce, our eastern compass plant. Not until 1895 did Professor

J. C. Arthur discover that when the garden lettuce is allowed to

flower, its stem leaves also exhibit polarity. The great lower

leaves of the rosin-weed, which stand nearly vertical, with their

faces to the east and west, and their edges to the north and

south, have directed many a traveler, not from Acadia only,

across the prairie until it has earned the titles pilot-weed,

compass or polar plant. Various theories have been advanced to

account for the curious phenomenon, some claiming that the leaves

contained sufficient iron to reader them magnetic - a theory

promptly exploded by chemical analysis. Others supposed that the

resinous character of the leaves made them susceptible to

magnetic influence; but as rosin is a non-conductor of

electricity, of course this hypothesis likewise proved untenable.

At last Dr. Asa Gray brought forward the only sensible

explanation: inasmuch as both surfaces of the rosin-weed leaf are

essentially alike, there being very nearly as many stomata on the

upper side as on the under, both surfaces are equally sensitive

to sunlight; therefore the leaf twists on its petiole until both

sides share it as equally as is possible. While the polarity of

the prickly lettuce leaves is by no means so marked, Dr. Gray's

theory about the rosin-weed may be applied to them as well.


FALSE SUNFLOWER OXEYE FIRE PINK VIRGINIA CATCHFLY facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail