Scientific Name: Sonchus oleraceus

Common Name: annual sowthistle

Other Common Names: sow thistle, smooth sow thistle, annual sow thistle, hare's colwort, hare's thistle, milky tassel, swinies

Leaves: Rosette leaves alternate, egg-shaped, with toothed margins. Stem leaves are alternate, without hairs, and have lobes that clasp the stem. Leaf margins are toothed and only slightly prickly. Roots: Taproot. Stems: Unbranched, 1-4 ft in height, and emit a milky sap when cut.

Identifying Characteristics: An annual with bluish-green leaves and stems that secretes a milky sap when cut. The bluish-green color of the leaves, the very prickly margins of the leaves that initially develop as a basal rosette and then occur alternately along the flowering stem, and the yellow flowers with a 'puff-ball' seedhead are all characteristics that help in the identification of annual sowthistle. Spiny Sowthistle (<a href='../../weedimg/84'>Sonchus asper</a>) is very similar in appearance, however this species has rounded lobes that clasp the stem whereas annual sowthistle has distinctly pointed lobes. Also, the leaf margins of spiny sowthistle are much more spiny or prickly than those of annual sowthistle. Both of the sowthistles can be distinguished from 'true' thistles by the milky sap they emit when broken. The sowthistles might also be confused with Prickly Lettuce (<a href='../../weedimg/555'>Lactuca serriola</a>), however the midvein on the leaf undersides of this weed has distinct spines or prickles, whereas those of the sowthistles do not.

Flower Seed Head: Flowers: Several occur in clusters at the end of the stems, pale yellow, 1/4 to 3/4 inch wide.

Seed Fruit: Fruit: An achene. Mature seed have a white feathery pappus that collectively form a white "puff ball" similar to dandelion. Seedling: Cotyledons egg-shaped and have petioles. Young leaves are alternate, egg-shaped, and form a rosette. Both young leaves and cotyledons have a whitish coating.

Where Found: Found throughout the United States.

  • Life cycle: winter annual

  • Milky sap: Present

  • Plant type: Herb

  • Thorns: Present

  • Plant family: Asteraceae

  • Leaf arrangement: alternate; rosette

  • Leaf shape: oval

  • Ochrea: Not Present

  • Leaf margin: lobed; entire; serrated

  • Stem hairs: no hairs

  • Flower color: yellow; white

  • Growth habit: upright and nonwoody

  • Stem: round or oval

  • Leaf structure: simple

  • Leaf hairs: no hairs

  • Flower symmetry: radial symmetery

  • Flower diameter: nickle; dime; pencil

  • Root structure: taproot; fibrous

  • Leaf stalk: none