Sorting Out Species
Sorting out wild lettuce is one of the more difficult foraging tasks and may require you to watch a plant all season. Complicating the issues are different leaf shapes, presence of hair or spines, and many closely related edibles. This page is an aid to identification. See other lettuce entries for more information.
Lactuca floridana: Woodland Lettuce, triangular leaf stem (V-shaped) pure white sap, usually a line of hair on the bottom of the mid-rib of older (lower) leaves. Stems, to seven feet tall, purple on lower portions, smooth, single from base, branching inflorescence. Blossoms look similar to chicory, 11 to 17 petals, no central disk. Leaves – alternate, long petiole, not clasping the stem. Basal leaves toothed, pinnately lobed, to six inches long and 3.5 wide, lateral lobes round to lance-shaped terminal lobe arrow-shaped. Vase-shape blossoms have overlapping vertical bracts with purple tips.
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Lactuca canadensis: Canadian Lettuce, Yellow Lettuce, Wild Lettuce, Similar to L. floridana, but notable differences. Leaf stems triangle (V-shaped) yellow flowers and a milky sap that quickly turns tan. Line of hair along bottom of leaf midrib. Leaves lobed, often sharply so, ending in a lance-shaped point. Younger leaves less lobs, pointed, often wavy. Leaf edges not spiny. Can be clasping. Some variations have small sparse hairs on and along the underside of the entire main leaf. Can have basal rosette first year, stalk the second year. While blossoms are yellow they also can be pinkish on tips. Blackish, flat dry seed with only one obvious line on each side.
Lactuca scariola, aka, L. serriola, and prickly lettuce, leaves alternating, grasping the stem, lobed or not, six inches long, 3 inches wide, distinct white midrib with stiff prickles (stiff enough to make a sound if you run your thumbnail down them) edges spiny, bottom of midrid had numerous spines, quite prickly. Leaves have terminal lobes larger than lateral lobes, entire leaves usually oblong. Leaves often have red around the edges. Ray flowers yellow, no disk. Sap is pure white, and can be irritating. Plant will turn leaves toward the sun and often be on the same plane (vertical.) The plant resembles the spiny sow thistle (Sonchus asper) but has a solid stem where as sow thistles have hollow stems. Also the sow thistle does not have spines or hairs along the underside of the leaf midrib. Modern Greeks call this petromaroulo.
Lactuca graminifolia: Wild lettuce with skinny glass-like leaves, some teeth/lobes on basal leaves. Bluish or white ray flowers, not disks. Found in dry fields and woods, to three feet tall. Smooth, greenish to reddish, milky sap.
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