Lettuce Labyrinth

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

Lactuca floridana, Woodland Lettuce

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.

Click here for more photos of Lactuca floridana.

Lactuca canadensis, Canadian Lettuce, Yellow Lettuce, Wild Lettuce

Lactuca canadensis, Canadian Lettuce, Yellow Lettuce, Wild Lettuce

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.

Click here to see more photos of Lactuca canadensis.

Lactuca scariola, L. serriola

Lactuca scariola, L. serriola

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, hairless, whitish, 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.

Click here to see more photos of Lactuca scariola.

Lactuca graminifolia, Wild lettuce

Lactuca graminifolia, Wild lettuce

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.


Click here to see more photos of Lactuca graminifolia.

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{ 18 comments… add one }
  • Brian February 3, 2012, 8:15 am

    L. serriloa is one of my favorite local plants, here in Dallas, Texas, for using as a hand drill spindle for friction fire.

  • Mike Dubbeld February 15, 2012, 12:32 am

    Green Dean, question on Lactuca graminifolia. In lettuce labyrinth you identify this one with 3 others but say nothing on edibility of any of them in this article. In Woodland Lettuce article you identify all but Lactuca graminifolia as edible. Is Lactuca graminifolia edible?

    I have been studying wildflowers for years and live near Deland Florida. I want to thank you for verifying my knowledge of all these plants! You basically gave me a reality check – reassuring me I was not on drugs on what a plant was. Your articles 04 and 59 threw me on Sonchus. I took one look at oleraceus/common sow thistle and could not imagine why you kept calling it a lettuce. Then I discovered the captions you put in correcting yourself and it all made sense. Now I am isolating the lettuces. Tonight I boiled up some oleraceus I was growing because the stem on it bent from the freeze anyway. Also pulled up some sword fern tubers. Yesterday and today I had some smilax – today I found 2 great big Bona-nox Bull smilax growing. The identification tips for distinguishing between smilax and virginia creeper were very helpful – I laughed at first thinking what kind of idiot can’t distinguish between smilax and virginia creeper. But then I found some smilax growing – but it had almost no leaves at all – could I be sure it was smilax? No. But after your careful pointing out the alternating leaves with 2 tendrils and a leaf for smilax and opposite tendril/leaf configuration for virgina creeper I was easily able to distinguish that I clearly had smilax so thankyou for that one also!

    I found a couple of loose ends on the whole dandelion/false dandelion/dwarf dandelion/cats ear plant identification I think you might want to mention another species. I will get back to you when I have the other species I found that is a look-alike – can’t recall if it was edible or toxic this moment. I seem to have a whole pasture full of false dandelion and hastate leaf dock (hastatulus).

    Some of these plants you talk about don’t appear to be worth the trouble. Like tradescantia ohensis – but it could be virginiana. Thats out there all over the place also ready to grow when the cold goes and it rains some more. But spiderwort is a real can of worms. I have some ornamental Purple Queen which is poisonous and I found some other toxic spiderworts and they seem to be not so easy to distinguish between. Elephant ear (which I don’t know if you do or not off hand) is another one that is a real can of worms! Lots of different kinds. Lots of talk about oxalic acid. 3 days ago I identified for my neighbor who loses about 1 cow per year – mysteriously dies and he suspects like the USDA it ate a poisonous plant – I identified Laurel Cherry which is cyanogenic/has purusic acid and is used in gas chamber for the death penalty in some states (HCL/Hydrogen Cyanide). Not too many poisonous plants out there but lots of these wild plants don’t really taste all that good either. I like the Stachys Floridana though. For years I have never seen any wild lettuce/lactuca of any sort where I live in Deland.

    Thanks again GD for your input on edibility of these plants – when it comes to taking a chance with my life I take what you say as input but I do a lot of other research on the plants you talk about in things like the USDA and Merck Veternary guide/Daves Garden/and that evil Wikipedia….. LOL!! 🙂

    • Green Deane February 15, 2012, 7:29 am

      I could have done that sonchus video much better. Frankly none of the wild letuces are much to write about, as they all are bitter even after cooking. By the way I have a class coming up in a coupo of weeks at Cassadega, the park there.

      • Alan Brant April 22, 2012, 10:38 am

        GD, It’s not true that all wild lettuces are bitter. Only L. floridana is bitter in SE Missouri and it remains bitter even when cooked. None of the other wild lettuces are the slightest bit bitter when cooked in omelets or soups. I don’t eat any of them raw.

        • Green Deane April 22, 2012, 5:57 pm

          Contrary views are always welcomed. In my (albeit limited) experience I have never met a wild Lactuca that was not bitter, either here in Florida or in New England… but… that isn’t to say they don’t exist. They just haven’t crossed my tongue.

          • ethan March 28, 2013, 12:00 am

            you have to eat them young. very young. then the

            even still, bitter isn’t necessarily a bad thing…it’s just one taste out of many. foraged dandelion or similar leaves go great w/a larger melange of greens.

            coffee is bitter. people don’t complain about that. it’s just arbitrary sets of acculturated expectations about how something should taste…

          • RM McWilliams March 18, 2017, 5:50 am

            Ah, Ethan, coffee is bitter, but that is why people put sugar in it, and/or milk or cream. We prefer cafe au lait, as the milk/cream smooths out the flavor with no need for sugar.

            Anyway… as you say, there is nothing wrong with a touch of bitter flavor now and then. The problem with wild lettuce is that people expect it to have the bland flavor of garden lettuce, and they eat it raw, instead of sauteed in some nice fat, or some other suitable method of cooking.

  • Mike Dubbeld March 29, 2012, 4:34 pm

    Sorry I missed this response GD! Hey lets try this one again – I have read your lettuce articles several times and I have something not in any of my books or illustrated by you yet in many ways it reminds me of being a lettuce. I was wondering if I could send you 3 pictures of it so you could hazard a best guess? (I don’t have your email).

    I missed the Cassadaga thing but Hey! if you ever want to go on the Lake Woodruff National Game Reserve I live less than 1/2 a mile from its entrance. Gaters can be seen in the wild. I go there to find plants I don’t know. 22,000 acres. Also Deleon Springs is also less than a mile away. MD

    I am going to be watching my Ohiensis stamen hairs to see if they turn pink in this year of a Solar Maximum! 🙂

    • Green Deane March 29, 2012, 5:08 pm

      You can post it on the Green Deane Forum on the board “what is it?”

  • Mike Dubbeld March 29, 2012, 6:17 pm

    I am trying to figure out what it is and where is the Green Dean Forum Board?

    • Green Deane March 29, 2012, 8:53 pm

      Go to my home page, eathteweeds.com. On the navigation line there is the word “forum” click on it. Or google “Green Deane Forum” and click on it.

  • Jess October 9, 2013, 7:51 pm

    Does anyone know the edibility of these wild lettuces for guinea pigs? I live in Oregon and believe I’ve seen several if not all of these growing here I want to know if they would be safe to feed my guinea pig?

    • Judith May 7, 2014, 2:21 pm

      Jess, I have the same question. I see no one has answered it yet. If I find out, I’ll post here!

      • Yellow Bird July 30, 2014, 10:12 pm

        jess & judith, im sorry i cant say on the wild lettuce but im glad you are both being wisely cautious!
        i accidentally killed my beloved Little P.I.G. by feeding him the same gladiola blossoms my bunnies always munched with no problems- what an introduction into toxin variance by species! it had never occurred to me that what’s fine for some critters might be deadly for others– until tragedy hit 🙁
        for that matter, i now wonder whether glads are even really safe for rabbits even tho mine had no issues– could be glads are like spiderwort, maybe hybridization has made many varieties toxic and one never wants to find out the hard way

  • Todd Brown November 3, 2016, 3:37 pm

    Jess and , Judith yes anything can eat these .

  • Sheffra Williams July 26, 2017, 3:05 am

    I am growing a plant that looks like a lactuca serriola, except it has no spines. It is about 4.5 feet tall with two shorter shoit’s growing from its base.
    What could this be?

  • Vital Herbal Nutritioniat November 23, 2017, 3:07 pm

    So many comments seem against “bitter”.Part of the problem with people health is that they have been so addicted to salt, sugar and oil that they cannot enjoy the bitters, and with dandelions, especially eat young and RAW as cookingm especially at high heat destroys nutrients. It is the bitters that we need more of if we want better health and to have less of the other tastes and additives!
    Plus they are great for our organ health! May you be in health as you seek Truth in all things.

    • Green Deane November 23, 2017, 4:03 pm

      Bitter can have a genetic component. Not all taste bitter the same way. Also some have a gene that makes bitterness very repugnant when young but more tolerable in old age. I have that gene. I’m 67 and only now can I tolerate some bitterness. Conversely I also carry the gene for high fructose intolerance. So the two extremes — very bitter and very sweet — are not my friends.


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