Iowa wildflower Wednesday: Woodland lettuce

Prairie plants were obviously the focus during last month's group walk around Tipton Prairie in Greene County. But we also saw some woodland wildflowers blooming near the edge of the prairie. Dr. Thomas Rosburg of Drake University identified today's featured plant as woodland lettuce (Lactuca floridana).

Sometimes known as blue woodland lettuce or Florida lettuce, this species is native to most of the U.S. east of the Rocky Mountains, and to the Canadian provinces of Manitoba and Ontario.

The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center at the University of Texas describes woodland lettuce as follows:

A loose cluster of numerous blue (sometimes whitish) flower heads atop a leafy stem; sap milky.

There are several species of lettuce with blue flower heads, among them a more western species, Large-flowered Blue Lettuce (L. tatarica var. pulchella), with larger and fewer flower heads than this species and foliage covered with white waxy bloom. Tall Blue Lettuce (L. biennis), found from southern Canada south to North Carolina and west to Iowa, has crowded clusters of flower heads and tan fruit bristles.

Bleeding Heartland covered tall blue lettuce three years ago. As with that plant, the leaves near the base of woodland lettuce have deep lobes.

The leaves higher up on the stem look very different.

Woodland lettuce can flower anytime between August and October. In early September, this plant had some flowerheads in bloom and others yet to open.

Woodland lettuce attracts a variety of pollinators, but I didn't capture any photographs of the insect visitors. They were having a heyday on the field thistle nearby.

Where the woods were encroaching on Tipton Prairie, white snakeroot was much more abundant than woodland lettuce.

I dared not move closer to this patch, because those green burs on Virginia stickseed can be difficult to extract once they've latched onto your hair, clothing, or shoes.

Tags: Wildflowers

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