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Sow thistles
Sonchus February 2008-1.jpg
Sonchus oleraceus
(Smooth Sow-Thistle)
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
(unranked): Angiosperms
(unranked): Eudicots
(unranked): Asterids
Order: Asterales
Family: Asteraceae
Tribe: Cichorieae[1]
Subtribe: Hyoseridinae
Genus: Sonchus
Type species
Sonchus oleraceus[2][3]
Sonchus tenerrimus and Sonchus oleraceus infest many crops in Italy, especially in the Southern area of the peninsula. They are considered good tasting edible plants and are cooked with spaghetti.
Sonchus hierrensis in the Canary Island of La Gomera.

Sonchus is a genus of flowering plants in the dandelion tribe within the sunflower family.[3][4]

Most of the species are annual herbs, a few are perennial, and a few are even woody (subgenus Dendrosonchus, restricted to the Canary Islands).[5][6][7][8][9]

Annual herbs in the genus are known as sow thistles (less commonly hare thistles or hare lettuces). The genus is named after the Ancient Greek for such plants. All are characterized by soft, somewhat irregularly lobed leaves that clasp the stem and, at least initially, form a basal rosette. The stem contains a milky latex. Flower heads are yellow and range in size from half to one inch in diameter; the florets are all of ray type. Sow thistles are common roadside plants, and while native to Eurasia and tropical Africa, they are found almost worldwide in temperate regions.[10]

Mature sow thistle stems can range from 30 cm to 2 m (1 to 6 feet) tall, depending upon species and growing conditions. Colouration ranges from green to purple in older plants. Sow thistles exude a milky latex when any part of the plant is cut or damaged, and it is from this fact that the plants obtained the common name, "sow thistle", as they were fed to lactating sows in the belief that milk production would increase. Sow thistles are known as "milk thistles" in some regions, although true milk thistles belong to the genus Silybum.

Sow thistles have been used as fodder, particularly for rabbits, hence the other common names of "hare thistle" or "hare lettuce". They are also edible to humans as a leaf vegetable; old leaves and stalks can be bitter but young leaves have a flavour similar to lettuce. Going by the name puha or rareke (raraki) it is frequently eaten in New Zealand as a vegetable, particularly by the native Māori. When cooked the flavour is reminiscent of chard.

In many areas sow thistles are considered noxious weeds,[11] as they grow quickly in a wide range of conditions and their wind-borne seeds allow them to spread rapidly. Sonchus arvensis, the perennial sow thistle, is considered the most economically detrimental, as it can crowd commercial crops, is a heavy consumer of nitrogen in soils, may deplete soil water of land left to fallow, and can regrow and sprout additional plants from its creeping roots. However, sow thistles are easily uprooted by hand, and their soft stems present little resistance to slashing or mowing. Most livestock will readily devour sow thistle in preference to grass, and this lettuce-relative is edible and nutritious to humans — in fact this is the meaning of the second part of the Latin name of the common sow thistle, oleraceus.[12] Attempts at weed control by herbicidal use, to the neglect of other methods, may have led to a proliferation of this species in some environments.[13]

In traditional medicine, the plant has medicinal qualities, having "nearly the same properties as dandelion and succory".[14]

Sow thistles are common host plants for aphids. Gardeners may consider this a benefit or a curse; aphids may spread from sow thistle to other plants, but alternatively the sow thistle can encourage the growth of beneficial predators such as hoverflies. In this regard sow thistles make excellent sacrificial plants. Sonchus species are used as food plants by the larvae of some Lepidoptera including Celypha rufana and the broad-barred white, grey chi, nutmeg, and shark moths . The fly Tephritis formosa is known to attack the capitula of this plant.[15]


  1. Sonchus acaulis
  2. Sonchus adscendens
  3. Sonchus afromontanus
  4. Sonchus agrestis
  5. Sonchus amboinensis
  6. Sonchus andrenarum
  7. Sonchus angulatus
  8. Sonchus aquatilis
  9. Sonchus araraticus
  10. Sonchus arboreus
  11. Sonchus arvensis – field or perennial sow thistle
  12. Sonchus asper – spiny sow thistle, sharp-fringed sow thistle, prickly sow-thistle, or spiny-leaved sow thistle
  13. Sonchus bipontini
  14. Sonchus bornmuelleri – Bornmueller's sow-thistle
  15. Sonchus bourgeaui
  16. Sonchus brachylobus
  17. Sonchus brachylobus
  18. Sonchus brachyotus
  19. Sonchus brasiliensis
  20. Sonchus briquetianus
  21. Sonchus bupleuroides
  22. Sonchus camporum
  23. Sonchus canariensis
  24. Sonchus capensis
  25. Sonchus capillaris
  26. Sonchus cavanillesianus
  27. Sonchus cavanillesii
  28. Sonchus congestus
  29. Sonchus crassifolius
  30. Sonchus crepioides
  31. Sonchus crispus
  32. Sonchus daltonii
  33. Sonchus denticulato-lanceolata
  34. Sonchus denticulato-platyphylla
  35. Sonchus diffusus
  36. Sonchus dregeanus
  37. Sonchus dulosus
  38. Sonchus elongatus
  39. Sonchus eriopus
  40. Sonchus erythraeae
  41. Sonchus erythropappus
  42. Sonchus erzincanicus
  43. Sonchus esperanzae
  44. Sonchus fauces-orci
  45. Sonchus fragilis
  46. Sonchus friesii
  47. Sonchus fruticosus
  48. Sonchus gandogeri
  49. Sonchus gibbosus
  50. Sonchus gigas
  51. Sonchus gomerensis
  52. Sonchus gramineus
  53. Sonchus grandifolius
  54. Sonchus gummifer
  55. Sonchus haussknechtii
  56. Sonchus heterophyllus
  57. Sonchus hierrensis
  58. Sonchus hothae
  59. Sonchus hydrophilus[16]
  60. Sonchus hypochaeroides
  61. Sonchus integrifolius
  62. Sonchus intermedius
  63. Sonchus jacottetianus
  64. Sonchus jainii
  65. Sonchus kirkii – puha or rauriki
  66. Sonchus laciniatus
  67. Sonchus laevis – common sowthistle
  68. Sonchus leptocephalus
  69. Sonchus lidii
  70. Sonchus lingianus
  71. Sonchus littoralis
  72. Sonchus luxurians
  73. Sonchus macrocarpus
  74. Sonchus maculigerus
  75. Sonchus malayanus
  76. Sonchus maritimus
  77. Sonchus masguindalii
  78. Sonchus mauritanicus
  79. Sonchus megalocarpa
  80. Sonchus melanolepis
  81. Sonchus microcarpus
  82. Sonchus microcephalus
  83. Sonchus monanthus
  84. Sonchus nanus
  85. Sonchus neglectus
  86. Sonchus nigricans
  87. Sonchus novae-zelandiae
  88. Sonchus novocastellanus
  89. Sonchus obtusilobus
  90. Sonchus obtusilobus
  91. Sonchus occidentalis
  92. Sonchus oleraceus – common sow thistle, smooth sow thistle, annual sow thistle
  93. Sonchus ortunoi
  94. Sonchus oxyspermus
  95. Sonchus palmensis – La Palma sow-thistle
  96. Sonchus palustris – marsh sowthistle
  97. Sonchus pendulus
  98. Sonchus pensylvanicus
  99. Sonchus perfoliatus
  100. Sonchus pinnatifidus
  101. Sonchus pinnatus
  102. Sonchus pitardii
  103. Sonchus platylepis
  104. Sonchus prudhommei
  105. Sonchus pustulatus
  106. Sonchus radicatus
  107. Sonchus regis-jubae
  108. Sonchus rokosensis
  109. Sonchus roseus
  110. Sonchus rotundilobus
  111. Sonchus saudensis
  112. Sonchus schweinfurthii
  113. Sonchus setosus
  114. Sonchus sosnowskyi
  115. Sonchus spinosus
  116. Sonchus stenophyllus
  117. Sonchus subacaulis
  118. Sonchus suberosus
  119. Sonchus sventenii
  120. Sonchus tectifolius
  121. Sonchus tenax
  122. Sonchus tenerrimus[16] – slender sow thistle
  123. Sonchus tigridus
  124. Sonchus toletanus
  125. Sonchus transcaspicus
  126. Sonchus tuberifer
  127. Sonchus ustulatus
  128. Sonchus vaginatus
  129. Sonchus wightianus
  130. Sonchus webbii
  131. Sonchus wildpretii
  132. Sonchus wilmsii – milk thistle
  133. Sonchus yendoi


  1. ^ a b c Flann, C (ed) 2009+ Global Compositae Checklist
  2. ^ Lectotype designated by N. L. Britton & A. Brown, Ill. Fl. N.U.S. ed. 2. 3: 316 (1913).
  3. ^ a b Tropicos, Sonchus L.
  4. ^ Linnaeus, Carl von. 1753. Species Plantarum 2: 793-795 in Latin
  5. ^ For a recent review of woody species, see Seung-Chul Kim et al. (1996). "A common origin for woody Sonchus and five related genera in the Macaronesian islands: Molecular evidence for extensive radiation." Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, 93:7743-7748.
  6. ^ "Sonchus". Flora of China. Missouri Botanical Garden – via 
  7. ^ Altervista Flora Italiana genere Sonchus photos and distribution maps for several species
  8. ^ Atlas of Living Australia
  9. ^ Flora Zambesiaca
  10. ^ "Sonchus". Flora of North America (FNA). Missouri Botanical Garden – via 
  11. ^ "Sonchus arvensis". Natural Resources Conservation Service PLANTS Database. USDA. 
  12. ^ Arthur Lee Jacobson website[dead link]
  13. ^ Management of common sow thistle, Queensland Government
  14. ^ A Modern Herbal by M. Grieve
  15. ^ White, I.M. (1984). Tephritid Flies (Diptera: Tephritidea). Handbooks for the Identification of British Insects. 10 pt 5a. Royal Entomological Society of London. pp. 134 pp. ISBN 0901546682. 
  16. ^ a b "Sonchus". Australian Plant Name Index (APNI), IBIS database. Centre for Plant Biodiversity Research, Australian Government, Canberra. Retrieved 2008-11-02. 

External links[edit]