Lettuces, Dandelions & allies

Yellow Fox-and-cubs Chicory Southern Goat's-beard Three-leaved White Lettuce

What are they?

It's easy to forget that those chunky, green, leafy things in plastic bags that we pick up from the supermarket or farm stand actually started out as wild plants - with much smaller leaves and with heads of flowers! There are many species in the lettuce/dandelion group, many of which can at least initially be identified by their milky sap. Members of this group have many-flowered heads, usually resembling the familiar Dandelion, but the lettuce group tend to have fewer petals and, though some are yellow, several are white to creamy white or pale blue in color.

Where are they found?

Many plants in this group were originally introduced into North America from Europe and are often troublesome weeds in garden flowerbeds and lawns and also in farmland.

Identification

Plants in this group can be confusing to and are often just all passed off as dandelions. But careful checking of leaves, stems and phyllaries should make identification of most species relatively straight forward.

Technical terms that it is useful to know when identifying this group are Phyllary, Ligule and Pappus. The phyllaries are the greenish outer part of the compound head of flowers and which can differ quite significantly between two, otherwise very similar, species. The ligule is the colored part of the flower that you or I would normally call a petal. In fact, each flower has five petals which are fused together at the base into a tube, then elongated out into a single, strap-like structure (the ligule). The pappus is the downy 'parachute' that carries the seed on the wind; these are best known as the 'clocks' of dandelions, so common on lawns in early summer.



Chicory      Cichorium intybus

Common to abundant on road shoulders and in abandoned, grassy places, making an impressive splash of color during the summer. This species is an introduced alien from Europe and its roasted root has been used as a substitute for coffee. Flowers mostly July to October. The bright blue (rarely white or pink) flowers, arranged in small clusters all up the stem make this an easy species to identify. Basal leaves are similar to those of the dandelions, but the end lobe is much bigger than the side lobes.
Chicory Chicory Chicory Chicory
Habit
Distinctive blue flowers
Basal leaves
Single leaf

Canadian Lettuce      Lactuca canadensis

A rather variable species, but often getting very tall (eight feet or more) and 'weedy' with a large, spreading head of tiny yellow flowers. Common and widespread in gardens and other disturbed areas, often as a weed of flowerbeds and arable field margins. Flowers late June to September.
Canadian Lettuce Canadian Lettuce Canadian Lettuce Canadian Lettuce
Habit
Flower spike
Small yellow flowers often
flushed pinkish
Leaves large and usually
deeply lobed

Least Lettuce      Lactuca saligna

(Willow-leaved Lettuce) Introduced from Europe. An often very small and easily-missed species, especially when growing in very arid conditions in dune hollows and sandy or gravelly fields. Introduced from Europe and usually in disturbed habitats. Not officially recorded for Cape May County, this species can be found in several places around Cape Island. It closely resembles very small individuals of the commoner Prickly Lettuce but tends to have narrower, less spreading flowerheads with flowers borne close to the stem and upper leaves are narrow and willow-like. Flowers July-August.
Least Lettuce Least Lettuce Least Lettuce Least Lettuce
Habit - easily missed
among other plants
Pale yellow flowers
often flushed pink
Lower leaves deeply lobed
Upper leaves narrow
and carried upright

Prickly Lettuce      Lactuca serriola

Introduced from Europe. Frequent and common as a weed of disturbed ground and fields. Prickly Lettuce is a rather variable species but can readily be distinguished by its leaves which have a ridge of prickles along the midrib on the underside. The leaves are often rotated 90 degrees into a vertical plane and aligned roughly north-south, a habit which earns itself the name of Compass Plant (though this name is also used for other species). In rich soils, this species can grow to over six feet high, but can equally be a very small plant of one foot or less in height when growing in poor, dry soil. Flowers June to October.
Prickly Lettuce Prickly Lettuce Prickly Lettuce Prickly Lettuce
Habit
Leaves have prickles along
midrib on underside
Leaves can be entire
or strongly lobed
Seeds brown with
white pappus

Perennial Sow-thistle      Sonchus arvensis

(Field Sow-thistle) Introduced from Europe. Uncommon, but can become locally common as it spreads readily from underground root systems. Can be an agressive perennial of arable farmland and old fields as well as the drier edges of saltmarshes and reedbeds. Readily told from other sow-thistles by the yellow, glandular hairs on the phyllaries and top of the flower stem and by its perennial habit. Flowers June to October.
Perennial Sow-thistle Perennial Sow-thistle Perennial Sow-thistle Perennial Sow-thistle
Habit
Flower head
Phyllaries have yellow
glandular hairs
Leaves lance-shaped with
irregular lobes

Prickly Sow-thistle      Sonchus asper

Frequent and common as a weed of disturbed ground, gardens and fields. Flowers June to August.Best told from Smooth Sow-thistle by its rounded leaf bases.
Prickly Sow-thistle Prickly Sow-thistle Prickly Sow-thistle Prickly Sow-thistle
Habit
Flowers
Leaves rounded
at base
Seed head

Smooth Sow-thistle      Sonchus oleraceus

(Common Sow-thistle) Frequent and common as a weed of disturbed ground, gardens and fields. Flowers June to October. Best told from Prickly Sow-thistle by its pointed leaf bases.
Smooth Sow-thistle Smooth Sow-thistle
Habit
Leaves have pointed
lobes at base

Three-leaved White Lettuce      Nabalus trifoliolatus

(Gall-of-the-earth, Rattlesnake Root) An often tall plant of woodland edge and shady field margins. The Prenanthes species are closely related to the true lettuces but have white rather than blue flowers and the flowers are nodding on long stems. Flowers August to October.
Three-leaved White Lettuce Three-leaved White Lettuce Three-leaved White Lettuce Three-leaved White Lettuce
Flowers on long stems
with long stamens
Lower leaves divided into
three sections
Upper leaves triangular
Stems smooth, often with
purple spots (note milky sap)

Carolina Desert-chicory      Pyrrhopappus carolinianus

I can find no records of this species for New Jersey, but it occurs in neighboring Pennsylvania and Delaware. The plant photographed here was found in Peaslee WMA in the north of Cape May County, so it should be looked for elsewhere in dry, sandy, open fields. Flowers late June to August. Desert-chicories are similar to the widespread Common Cat's-ear, but have paler, lemon-yellow flowers.
Carolina Desert-chicory Carolina Desert-chicory Carolina Desert-chicory Carolina Desert-chicory
Pale yellow flowers
Phyllaries long, strap-like
with darker tips
Leaves long & narrow with
irregular, shallow lobes
Upper leaves clasp stem

Chondrilla      Chondrilla juncea

(Rush Skeletonweed) An introduction from the Mediterranean region, Chondrilla thrives in hot, dry places and is common in disturbed areas at the back of dunes and in dry, sandy fields. It is most easily identified later in the season as it's stems get progressively longer throughout the flowering period and bear very tiny leaves that soon drop off, leaving thin, wiry growths that give it its alternative name of skeletonweed. Flowers July to September.
Chondrilla Chondrilla Chondrilla Chondrilla
Habit
Flowers single along thin,
wiry stems
Basal rosette of leaves resembles
Chicory, but lower stem bristly
Fluffy seed heads
are pure white

Common Dandelion      Taraxacum officinale

Introduced from Europe. Widespread and common to abundant in grassy areas, especially lawns. Flowers March to November with a peak in April. Though everyone knows a dandelion when they see one, the genus Taraxacum actually consists of a large number of species all of which tend to be apomictic. In this context, that means that the plants produce seeds without cross-fertilization and thus the offspring are clones of their single parent. For the purposes of this guide, however, the larger, 'weedy' species are all lumped under the old aggregate name of Taraxacum officinale. Dandelions (the word comes from the French 'Dent de Lion', meaning Lion's teeth and refers to the outline of the leaf) can be told from all other similar-looking species in this group by the flower heads being carried singly, at the top of a hollow stem.
Common Dandelion Common Dandelion Common Dandelion Common Dandelion
Habit
Flower
Phyllaries
Leaf

Lesser Dandelion      Taraxacum erythrospermum

Introduced from Europe (though there are native dandelions in this group in North America). Widespread and common to abundant in grassy areas, especially lawns. Flowers March to November with a peak in April. Though everyone knows a dandelion when they see one, the genus Taraxacum actually consists of a large number of species all of which tend to be apomictic. In this context, that means that the plants produce seeds without cross-fertilization and thus the offspring are clones of their single parent. For the purposes of this guide, however, the smaller species are all lumped under an aggregate name of Taraxacum laevigatum. Dandelions (the word comes from the French 'Dent de Lion', meaning Lion's teeth and refers to the outline of the leaf) can be told from all other similar-looking species in this group by the flower heads being carried singly, at the top of a hollow stem. The Lesser Dandelions differ from Common Dandelions by their smaller flower heads with usually fewer ligules and their leaves, which are smaller, with narrower lobes which tend to curve back more strongly.
Lesser Dandelion Lesser Dandelion Lesser Dandelion Lesser Dandelion
Habit
Flower
Phyllaries
Leaf

Gronovius' Hawkweed      Hieracium gronovii

The hawkweeds in the genus Hieracium are notoriously really difficult to identify, but fortunately for us on the coastal plain, they tend to be more common in shady hill country and at more northerly latitudes. Gronovius' Hawkweed is the species most likely to be found in Cape May County and it is reasonably common in fields, open woods and roadsides throughout the area. Flowers July to September. The open, candelabra-like flower spikes and roughly hairy stems and leaves are easy to recognise. Species in this genus tend to form single-stemmed plants, with or without a basal rosette of leaves, and are often found in loose colonies of a number of plants.
Gronovius' Hawkweed Gronovius' Hawkweed Gronovius' Hawkweed Gronovius' Hawkweed
Open heads of flowers
on long stems
Phyllaries with one or two
yellow-tipped glandular hairs
Leaves clasping stem and
roughly hairy with
wavy edges
Coarse white hairs on stem

Veined Hawkweed      Hieracium venosum

(Rattlesnakeweed) Found in open, dry woodland and along shady field borders. Flowers May to July. The leaves with their heavily purplish-marked veins make this an easy species to identify. Usually found growing in scattered colonies of leaf rosettes.
Veined Hawkweed Veined Hawkweed Veined Hawkweed Veined Hawkweed
Habit
Flower
Phyllaries with a few
dark hairs
Leaves purple-veined

Tall Mouse-ear-hawkweed      Pilosella piloselloides

(Smooth or Tall Hawkweed) Introduced from Europe. The Pilosella hawkweeds generally differ from the Hieracium species by forming low, spreading, leafy mats, which can form extensive patches on grassy roadsides. Flowers May to October. Flowers carried on a stem that is much taller than in other Pilosella species.
Tall Mouse-ear-hawkweed Tall Mouse-ear-hawkweed Tall Mouse-ear-hawkweed Tall Mouse-ear-hawkweed
Flower heads
Phyllaries covered in
black hairs with yellow,
glandular tips
Leaves narrow and
almost hairless
Leaf midribs and stem
with coarse black hairs.

Yellow Fox-and-cubs      Pilosella caespitosa

(Meadow, Yellow or Field Hawkweed) Introduced from Europe. The Pilosella hawkweeds generally differ from the Hieracium species by forming low, spreading, leafy mats, which can form extensive patches in open, grassy meadows and even lawns. Flowers May to October but mostly mid-summer.
Yellow Fox-and-cubs Yellow Fox-and-cubs Yellow Fox-and-cubs Yellow Fox-and-cubs
Habit
Habit
Phyllaries covered in
black hairs with yellow,
glandular tips
Leaves wavy-edged with
long, silky white hairs

Orange Fox-and-cubs      Pilosella aurantiaca

Introduced from Europe. Flowers May to October but mostly mid-summer. Old records exist for Cape May County, but there have been no recent reports of this introduced but bright and cheery plant. Forms small colonies in short grass habitats such as lawns and roadsides.
Orange Fox-and-cubs Orange Fox-and-cubs Orange Fox-and-cubs Orange Fox-and-cubs
Habit
Flowers
Flower close-up
Leaves stiff, with
long, silky white hairs

Lesser Hawkbit      Leontodon saxatilis

Introduced from Europe, this species can be found at the Two-mile Beach unit of Cape May NWR. A low species with a basal rosette of leaves which can be very hairy to almost hairless (but never completely smooth), depending on growing conditions. Flowers are borne singly on long stems, the stems being hairy at the base and smooth at the top. Flowers July to September.
Lesser Hawkbit Lesser Hawkbit Lesser Hawkbit Lesser Hawkbit
Flower head
Phyllaries smooth,
yellow ligules are
pinkish underneath
Leaves toothed and coarsely
to lightly hairy
Pappus buffy or
pale brownish

Common Cat's-ear      Hypochaeris radicata

(Hairy Cat's-ear) Very common to abundant throughout Cape May County in lawns, fields, roadsides and all manner of grassy places. Introduced from Europe and now well established. Flowers May to October. Easily identified by its rough, bristly leaves and the small bracts on the branching flower stems.
Common Cat's-ear Common Cat's-ear Common Cat's-ear Common Cat's-ear
Habit
Phyllaries with pale
midrib and often
reddish tips
Small, leaf-like bracts
on flower stems
Leaves rough with
coarse, bristly hairs

Smooth Cat's-ear      Hypochaeris glabra

Introduced from Europe. A scarce plant, recently found in dry, sandy soil on the barrier islands Flowers May to October. Usually much smaller than typical Common Cat's-ear, with hairless leaves and much smaller flowers.
Smooth Cat's-ear Smooth Cat's-ear Smooth Cat's-ear Smooth Cat's-ear
Flower head
Phyllaries
Leaves smooth
Seed head

Southern Goat's-beard      Tragopogon dubius

(Yellow Salsify) A chunky plant with flowers much larger than the familiar Dandelion and with enormous fruiting heads than can be up to four inches across and very showy. A large colony of these plants can be seen at the Magnasite Plant near Cape May Point during the summer. Related to the pink-flowered Salsify (T. porrifolius), the root of which can be eaten as a vegetable. Flowers May to July.
Southern Goat's-beard Southern Goat's-beard Southern Goat's-beard Southern Goat's-beard
Note pointed bracts which
which are longer than ligules
Leaves grass-like with
white mid-vein
Upper leaves clasp stem
Huge seed heads
with white pappus

Virginia Dwarf-dandelion      Krigia virginica

An often tiny adventive plant of disturbed ground, tracksides and fallow fields. Flowers May to July. Single plants of this species may easily be missed as they can be very small, but often they occur in quite extensive colonies, making them easier to spot. Usually hairless but for a few glandular hairs at the top of the flower stem, but plants can be more hairy at times. Readily identified after going to seed due to the distinctive pappus in two rows, the outer row like silvery, papery petals, the inner ones long and hair-like.
Virginia Dwarf-dandelion Virginia Dwarf-dandelion Virginia Dwarf-dandelion Virginia Dwarf-dandelion
Flowers orange-yellow,
single, on long stems
Leaves smooth, glaucous
but may have a few hairs
Phyllaries mostly smooth,
green
Distinctive silvery
pappus

Two-flowered Dwarf-dandelion      Krigia virginica

(Two-flowered Cynthia) Recorded many years ago in Cape May as a rare introduction, but there have been no recent records. Flowers May to June. The intensely orange-yellow flowers are eye-catching, making this plant hard to overlook. Each stem usually carries to flower heads at the top.
Two-flowered Dwarf-dandelion Two-flowered Dwarf-dandelion Two-flowered Dwarf-dandelion Two-flowered Dwarf-dandelion
Flowers bright orange-yellow,
usually two per stem
Phyllaries
Basal Leaf smooth,
glaucous
Upper stem leaf
clasps stem