Sonchus asper (Spiny Sowthistle)

Plant Info
Also known as: Prickly Sowthistle
Family:Asteraceae (Aster)
Life cycle:annual
  • Weedy
Habitat:sun; roadsides, waste areas, fields, along streams, gardens
Bloom season:July - October
Plant height:2 to 4 feet
Wetland Indicator Status:GP: FAC MW: FACU NCNE: FACU
MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):Minnesota county distribution map
National distribution (click map to enlarge):National distribution map

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Detailed Information

Flower: Flower shape: 7+petals Cluster type: panicle

[photo of flower] Many small, loose open clusters (corymbiform) of yellow dandelion type flower heads, each up to 1 inch across when fully open, at the top of the stem and arising from leaf axils. The flower head, consisting of bracts, receptacle and ray flowers (petals), is thick, barrel to vase shaped, usually with tiny glandular hairs on the stalk just below the cluster. Bracts are in 3 or 4 layers, those in the outer layer shorter and broader at the base, sometimes with sparse glandular hairs, those in the inner-most layer long and narrow. Several small attending leaves are typically at the base of cluster.

Leaves and stem: Leaf attachment: alternate Leaf type: lobed Leaf type: simple

[photo of leaves] Upper leaves are up to 6 inches long with a rounded, widely lobed (auriculate) base semi-clasping the stem. Lower leaves are up to 10 inches long and 3½ inches wide, more spatula shaped with deeper lobes. All leaves are coarsely toothed with soft spines and are shiny waxy green on the upper surface. Stems are lined or grooved, green or reddish, usually hairless, stout, hollow, crisp but brittle, and exude a milky sap when broken.

Fruit: Fruit type: seed with plume

[photo of fruit] Seed heads finely fuzzy with bracts fully open below. The brown seed is flattened and generally oval with 3 or 4 ribs per side, and a tuft of white hairs.


Spiny Sowthistle has become widely cosmopolitan throughout the Americas and Asia due to human activity. A prolific and persistent weed of unattended gardens, it does not encroach readily into high grade habitats and is likely highly under-reported within Minnesota. It is distinguished from other sowthistles mostly by the auricled, prickly-toothed leaves. It is also more prickly than Common Sowthistle (Sonchus oleraceus) and has smaller flowers than Perennial Sowthistle (Sonchus arvensis).

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More photos

Photos by Peter M. Dziuk, taken in Anoka county including the public flower garden in Circle Pines.


Have you seen this plant in Minnesota, or have any other comments about it?

Posted by: Tess - Hugo
on: 2013-08-06 11:47:31

Have been trying to identify a yellow wildflower growing in back of property. I think this is it! Hollow stem?

Posted by: Gretchen - Filmore county
on: 2015-09-15 16:40:55

Located at Forestville mystery cave quansit. 2 plants identified. Hollow stem, clasping alternate leaves. About to go to seed

Posted by: bruce honnigford - Minnetonka
on: 2018-06-28 21:54:34

Just pulled a three foot tall sow-thistle out of my garden today. It appeared out of nowhere.

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