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Prickly Lettuce

Common Name: Prickly Lettuce.

Scientific Name: Lactuca Serriola.

What to look for?  Yellow flowers sitting atop a tall, weedy-looking stem. Prickly Lettuce is a biennial plant that has a tall, light green central stem. As its name suggests, there are prickles near its base. Prickly Lettuce has alternate, bluish-green, oblong leaves, becoming smaller as they ascend the stems. Each leaf has short prickles along its margin and the underside of the central vein. Both the stems and leaves contain a white milky latex. The central stem has side stems that produce long, spreading panicles of pale yellow flowerheads, consisting of about 20 pale yellow ray florets and several blue-green bracts underneath. Each floret produces an achene or fruit. Distribution of these achenes is by the wind. The root system consists of a taproot that is stout and deep. This plant spreads by reseeding itself.

Where can they be found at Carillon Stonegate Pond? ? Prickly Lettuce may be found growing sporadically in fields around our ponds and the forest preserve.

How big are they? Prickly Lettuce generally grows to approximately three (3) feet tall. The oblong leaves are up to twelve (12) inches long and three (3) inches wide and decreasing in size as they ascend the stem. The flowers are one-half (0.5) of an inch across.

Where do they grow and thrive? Prickly Lettuce is not native to North America. It is originally from Eurasia and spread over much of the U.S. and throughout southern Canada. Prickly Lettuce is found in fields and disturbed places along roads, railroads, and sidewalks.

When do they bloom? The Prickly Lettuce blooms during the summer months from July to September.

Do birds, insects or other wildlife associate with this plant? The nectar and pollen of the flowerheads attract various kinds of bees. The caterpillars of several species of moths eat the foliage. The foliage is bitter-tasting and avoided by most animals.

Interesting Facts About the Prickly Lettuce:

  • Another common name for this plant is Wild Opium because the latex contains compounds that are mildly sedating and analgesic.

  • The genus Lactuca, is Latin for 'milk' referring to the milky juice of the plant.

  • The species, serriola, is also Latin for 'in ranks" referring to the way the leaves line up directionally.

For more information on the Prickly Lettuce and sources of information used in this blog (these are several of the sources that I am using to learn as I blog), please visit Illinois Wildflowers, Minnesota Wildflowers, Friends of the Wildflower Garden, and Ohio State University Weed Guide.

The Carillon at Stonegate community is very fortunate to have a variety of wetland, forest and prairie environments conducive to a variety of birds and other wildlife, insects and plants. Our community and the Kane County Forest Preserve do an exceptional job in maintaining this natural environment – both for the benefit of the birds and wildlife and for our residents to enjoy.


Take a hike and see what you can find – and identify!

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