Lactuca canadensis (Wild Lettuce)
|Also known as:||Canadian Lettuce|
|Life cycle:||annual, biennial|
|Habitat:||shade, sun; edges of woods, along roads|
|Bloom season:||July - September|
|Plant height:||4 to 10 feet|
|MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):|
|National distribution (click map to enlarge):|
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Open branching cluster of stalked flowers at the tip of the plant and arising from leaf axils in the upper plant. The tiny dandelion-like flowers are ¼ to 1/3 inch across with 15 to 20 rays (petals) with a few teeth at the tip of a ray. Color is typically yellow but may be tinged red or orange. The bracts are variable in size, green often with purple tips, hairless, overlapping, appressed, and form a tube about ½ inch long.
Leaves are quite variable, often deeply lobed towards the base of the plant, up to 12 inches long and to 6 inches wide, gradually becoming smaller, smooth-edged and unlobed at the top. The lobes may be broad or narrow; the uppermost leaves may be broad or narrow as well. Surfaces are usually hairless except for sparse hairs along the midvein on the underside. Leaf edges are often wavy and toothless or with a few small teeth.
Leaves are mostly stalkless and are often clasping with a pair of small lobes (auricles) at the base. Stems are mostly smooth, green to purplish or spotted purple, sometimes with a waxy bloom, and unbranched except in the flower clusters.
Flower heads form seed heads about 1-inch in diameter with the bracts spreading out as seed matures. Seed is brown, flattened, oval-elliptic, with a long, slender beak at least half as long as the seed body. At the tip of the beak is a tuft of white hairs to carry it off in the wind.
This is a highly variable species, particularly in leaf shape. In some references, these various shapes are treated as separate varieties but they are not recognized in Minnesota. Wild Lettuce grows in a variety of conditions, from shady, moist woods to dry, gravelly roadsides. When seed is present, it is easily distinguished by the long, slender beak on the seeds, which more or less resembles a stalk, at the tip of which is the tuft of white hairs. Most similar, and may be found in similar habitats, is Tall Blue Lettuce (Lactuca biennis), which is further distinguished by its short, stout beak and light brown hairs on the seeds, and leaves with winged stalks that are not clasping and often have hairs on major veins, not just the leaf midrib.
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Where to buy native seed and plants ↓
- roadside Wild Lettuce
- Wild Lettuce in woodland habitat
- clusters arising from leaf axils
- red-tinged flowers
- orange-tinged flowers
- leaves with narrow lobes
- a spindly plant
All photos taken at Long Lake Regional Park, New Brighton, MN, July-August 2006.
Have you seen this plant in Minnesota, or have any other comments about it?