Characteristics of sowthistles

What is a sowthistle?

Characteristics of sowthistles (Sonchus spp.)

Sonchus oleraceus
Illustration of common sowthistle (Sonchus oleraceus).

A common sowthistle is an edible wild plant that has been consumed since we could say immemorial times.

It belongs to the botanical genus Sonchus, classified within the Asteraceae, and is related to dandelion (Taraxacum officinale W.). Although they are similar in the color of their flowers, these two plants are very different.

We can distinguish different types of sowthistles, mainly three:

  • Common sowthistle, milk thistle or soft thistle (Sonchus oleraceus),
  • Slender sowthistle (Sonchus tenerrimus)
  • Prickly sow-thistle or spiny sowthistle (Sonchus asper).

All of them have similar features and can be used in food. See below the study of sowthistles, their properties and how to use them.

Description of sowthistles

The genus Sonchus has several species of annual herbaceous plants, belonging to the extensive family Asteraceae (Composite). These are plants that grow in spring, after the cold winter, and dry out in late summer.

The common denominator of all Sonchus are the following characteristics:

  • Their ligulate flowers of intense yellow tones, grouped in floral heads or capitulum.
  • Their basal leaves are clipped and rosette-shaped at the beginning of their growth.
  • Their sessile leaves along the trunk, at the stage of maturity of the plant.

Types of Sonchus

Slender sowthistle Sonchus tenerrimus
Photo of slender sowthistle (Sonchus tenerrimus).

Within this botanical genus, it is worth highlighting three types of Sonchus, the best known:

  • Sonchus oleraceus, known as common sowthistle, milk thistle or soft thistle
  • Sonchus tenerrimus, known as slender sowthistle
  • Sonchus asper, known as sow-thistle or spiny sowthistle

Habitat of sowthistles. Where do sowthistles grow?

We can find sowthistles in rich soils, orchards and gardens, but it is also common to see them growing on the edges of fields, at the foot of a wall, or by the side of the road.

Sonchus are not very demanding in terms of the soil, but when they find a well nitrogenated soil, their growth and their appearance is spectacular.

For this reason, and given that Sonchus are very abundant, we find them with very different aspects depending on the habitat where they grow. It depends precisely on the quality of the soil, to the point that it may seem to us that it is another plant species.

Uses of sowthisle

Sowthistle can be used:

punto rojo More information on sowthistles

This article was endorsed by Julián Masats - Technical agricultural engineer specialized in horticulture and gardening.
Written by Editorial Botanical-online team in charge of content writing

13 June, 2024

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