Sow Thistle

Sonchus oleraceus

Sow Thistle, Sonchus oleraceus, photo © by Michael Plagens

Photographed in Phoenix, Maricopa Co., Arizona. 15 February 2015.

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ANNUAL: Herbaceous annual that may grow low or taller depending on conditions. Many leaves are basal (at ground level), with progressively smaller leaves higher on the stems. When broken, stems exude milky sap. Established plants will have a long tap root.

RANGE: A cosmopolitan weed native to Eurasia and now found throughout North America.

LEAVES: Margins of the leaves have lobes that are pointed but are not as sharp as those of Spiny Sow Thistle (Sonchus asper). The base of the leaf has lobes that nearly encircle the stem, i.e. clasping.

Leaf of Sow Thistle, Sonchus oleraceus growing in glendale, Arizona. Photo © by Michael Plagens

FLOWERS: Small, yellow, dandelion-like flower heads composed entirely of yellow strap-shaped florets. Flowering mostly in spring.

FRUIT: The achene seeds bear a pappus of many fine capillary bristles at the top and do not have a beak at the top.

ARMED: The prickles are sometimes sharp.

Sow Thistle is a very common weed growing in urban areas of the Sonoran Desert in Arizona. In Phoenix, for example, it grows from cracks in pavement, gardens, and vacant lots. Plants germinate from seed in early spring and are blooming by February. The plants are fairly tolerant of heat and survive until early part of the summer. The yellow inflorescence is open briefly for one day and only at dawn. A dandelion-like pappus at the top of each small seed allows them to be readily distributed by the wind. The leaf shape is very similar to the dandelion's as well, but Sow Thistle grows taller and branches freely whereas the common dandelion has the leaves all basal and the flowering stalk is unbranched. True dandelions are rare in the hot southwest deserts.

Asteraceae -- Sunflower Family

More Information:

Sonoran Desert Field Guide
Sonoran Desert Places
Sonoran Desert Naturalist Home Page


Copyright Michael J. Plagens, page created 6 Nov. 2007
updated 21 Feb. 2015.