Sow Thistle Identification – Sonchus oleraceus

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This post is part of our “100 Plants and Mushrooms” series. Here, you’ll see the plant’s main parts – its leaves, flowers, fruits, and more – all with key identification features.

Sow thistles seem to pop up everywhere, from fields to waste places. And if you’ve ever come across a plant with deep yellow dandelion-like flowers on roadsides or disturbed areas, you might have met the Sow Thistle. Officially known as Sonchus oleraceus, it’s a plant with distinct features and edible uses.

The Sow Thistle belongs to the Asteraceae family, the same family as daisies and sunflowers. It’s also known by the name Annual Sowthistle. Even though it’s now found across the globe, this plant originally hailed from Europe.

Sow Thistle: Key Parts in Photos

Where to find it

The Sow Thistle loves sunny spots. They aren’t too picky and can sprout in areas that might seem inhospitable: alongside roads, on fields, or even places we consider ‘waste.’ This adaptability is a testament to the plant’s rugged nature, growing up to 10 feet tall.

How to identify Sow Thistle

The leaves can vary greatly – some deeply divided with triangle-like parts, while others might only be toothed or shallowly cut. At the end of the leaf, you’d typically find a triangular lobe. The ones lower down the stem can be long and wide. Move up, and the leaves are smaller, but they ‘clasp’ the stem. Remember to watch out for the coarse-toothed edges with soft prickles on them. The stem itself might feel crisp if you were to snap it. It carries a dull waxy sheen, giving it a distinct appearance.

The Sow Thistle’s flowers might remind you of the dandelions you see on lawns. They grow in tight clusters, boasting a vibrant yellow. These clusters can be found at the top of the plant and even in places where leaves connect to the stem. These flower clusters can sometimes have tiny leaves at their base.

The plant has tiny dark brown seeds. These seeds have a distinct shape – a bit flat and spindle-like. Their standout feature is the bright white tuft of hairs – these hairs help the seeds float away, spreading the plant to new locations.

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