Wild lettuce vs dandelion is always an interesting topic to talk about when you are in the midst of plant enthusiasts.

Both plants are in the same family and have similar features such as their flowers, so how can you differentiate between dandelions and wild lettuces? Continue reading to learn more about these two plants.

Are Wild Lettuces and Dandelions the Same?

Both plants are definitely not the same. Let us briefly discuss dandelions and wild lettuces.

– What Are Wild Lettuces?

Wild lettuces are plants in the Asteraceae family that are closely related to the common lettuce. Wild lettuces are mostly mistaken for dandelions as they have almost the same flower.

The first thing people see when they look at weeds is the flowers, so if two weed species have similar flowers, both plants are usually mistaken for the other.

Wild lettuces may grow like a weed, but they have a lot of uses especially in regards to medicine.

– What Are Dandelions?

Just like wild lettuces, dandelions are also part of the Asteraceae family. Dandelions are not closely related to popular plant species, but they are related to some plants that grow like weeds.

Even though dandelions grow like weeds, they also have many uses. They can be eaten as food for people, feed for animals, and they also have medicinal uses.

What Is the Difference Between Dandelion and Wild Lettuce?

Even though they may look similar, there is a difference between dandelions and wild lettuces in their taxonomy (classification and history), appearance, distribution and origin, uses and lifespan.

– Taxonomy

Dandelions have the botanical name Taraxacum officinale (taraxos meaning disorder, akos meaning remedy, and officinale referring to the official use of dandelions as herbs). The word “Dandelion” originates from the French word “dent de lion” which means “Lion’s tooth.” The name refers to the teeth-like indentations on the edge of dandelion leaves.

Other names of dandelions include:

  • Lion’s Tooth
  • Wild Endive
  • Puff Ball
  • Piss-in-bed
  • Royal Herb
  • Irish Daisy
  • Cankerwort
  • Clock Flower
  • Pissabed
  • Bitterwort
  • Blow Ball

Wild lettuces have the botanical name Lactuca virosa. The name “virosa” means “strong unpleasant smell or taste” or “toxic” while “lactuca” means “milk extract.” Putting the name together, “Lactuca virosa” gives us “milk extract with an unpleasant smell or taste.”

Other names for wild lettuces are:

  • Opium Lettuce
  • Lactucarium
  • Great Lettuce
  • Tall Lettuce
  • Bitter Lettuce
  • Strong Scented Lettuce
  • Poisonous Lettuce
  • Green Endive

Note that both dandelions and wild lettuces are from the same family, Asteraceae. As you can see, dandelions and wild lettuces are classified differently even though they are from the same family.

– Plant Appearance

The difference between dandelions and wild lettuces is clearly seen in their size and leaves.

Note that dandelions do not have hairs. More identifiable features of dandelions are:

  • Size: Dandelions can grow up to 12 inches tall.
  • Leaves: Dandelions have bright green leaves that are indented with jagged edges. The leaves are not sharp when touched.
  • Flowers: Flower stems can grow up to 30 ½ inches tall. Each stem has just one daisy-looking flower, which will grow to become seed heads that help to disperse the seeds. Dandelions mostly flower in May and June, but can also flower in other parts of the year. The flowers are outstretched in sunlight and close up in the dark.
  • Seeds: The very little seeds resemble fluffy parachutes. They are carried by the wind to new places where they grow to become new plants.

Wild lettuce has a hard stem with a brown tap root, and you may sometimes even see purple spots on the stem. Other cool ways to identify wild lettuce are:

  • Size: Wild lettuces can grow up to 6 feet (72 inches) tall.
  • Leaves: Like dandelion leaves, the leaves of wild lettuces also have teeth. The difference is that wild lettuce leaves are not as indented as the leaves of dandelions, and their leaves are broader and more oval. There are some prickles on the lower parts of wild lettuces.
  • Flowers: Wild lettuce flowers look a lot like dandelion flowers. Wild lettuce plants, however, produce multiple flowers in the same flower stalk while dandelions produce just one flower per stalk.
  • Seeds: Wild lettuce seeds look just like dandelion seeds. To propagate either dandelion or wild lettuces, take a mature flower and blow its seeds into your garden. The seeds will grow when the environmental conditions are right.

 

– Distribution and Origin

While both wild lettuces and dandelions can be found in several continents across the world including North and South America, Europe, Asia and Australia, wild lettuces are native to Eurasia while dandelions are said to be native to North America.

The consistent trade between America and Europe is responsible for the spread of wild lettuces and dandelions across various continents.

– Uses

Dandelions and wild lettuces do not have the same uses. Both of these plants have medicinal qualities, but their applications in the medical field are different.

Some uses of dandelions include:

  • Food: A lot of animals, including humans, enjoy eating dandelions. Animals such as birds, pigs, goats, sheep, cows, etc. eat dandelions and it can be used to control their population. People use young dandelion leaves to prepare salads and other types of food, but take note that mature leaves are bitter and not edible. The young leaves taste like spinach.
  • Beer, wine and tea: People in the US and Canada use the seeds of dandelions to make beer and wine. Some people also roast the roots of dandelions to replace coffee.
  • Medicine: Dandelion root is one of the roots of plants that are listed in the US Pharmacopeia. Tea made of dandelion roots helps the human immune system as well as maintains the health of the kidney, liver and bowels.
  • Weed: Not everyone wants dandelions near their home or garden. It remains a pesky weed plant to many people.

Some wild lettuce common uses are:

  • Medicine: Even though every type of lettuce has traces of pain-relieving and narcotic properties, the level of these properties is higher in wild lettuces. Wild lettuce extracts are processed into several types of creams to treat redness, sunburn and other types of irritations.
  • Animal Food: Wild lettuce leaves are bitter and usually ignored by people. Animals such as deer, however, eat the leaves.

As you can see, dandelions and wild lettuces have wildly different uses.

– Lifespan

Another major difference between dandelions and wild lettuces is their lifespan. Dandelions are perennial, which means that they can live for more than two years. Wild lettuces, however, are biennial, which means that they die within two years.

If you have large dandelion-like weeds with broad leaves growing in your garden that are dying within two years, you probably have wild lettuces and not dandelions.

Other Similar Plants

There are some other plants that look like dandelions and wild lettuces when you consider their flowers and other features. Some common examples of dandelion and wild lettuce look alikes are:

– Lesser Hawkbit (Leontodon Hispidus)

Just like dandelions, lesser hawkbits also grow only one flower per stalk. They are perennial and quite difficult to differentiate from dandelions as they are among the closest plants that look like dandelion leaves. Here is a list of some quick information about this plant:

  • Suitable USDA hardiness zones: 5-9
  • Uses: The roasted roots can be used as a substitute for coffee. People sometimes eat the leaves raw.
  • Original Habitat: Europe and the Middle East
  • Bloom Time: This weed blooms from June to October.
  • Unique Feature: Hairs grow on the stem and branches of lesser hawkbits. The leaves of hawkbits are also narrower than those of dandelions.
  • Hawkbits can grow up to 10 inches tall.

– Coltsfoot (Tussilago Farfara)

This plant is considered an invasive species as it grows quickly through its seeds and rhizomes. You do not want it near your garden.

  • Suitable USDA hardiness zones: 4-8
  • Uses: People use coltsfoots to cure various respiratory conditions in humans and animals. It is also effective against fevers.
  • Bloom Time: It blooms early in the year and can start blooming as early as February.
  • Original Habitat: Europe and some parts of Asia
  • Unique Feature: Coltsfoots bloom before their leaves appear from the ground. Their leaves are flat and large.
  • Coltsfoot stems can grow up to 3-18 inches tall.

– Smooth Hawksbeard (Crepis Capillaris)

This perennial weed has yellow flowers just like wild lettuces and dandelions. It is among the closest dandelion look alikes. Some quick details of this plant are:

  • Suitable USDA hardiness zones: 9-11
  • Uses: This plant has medicinal uses. People use it to cure snakebites and fevers, as well as to suppress coughs and other ailments.
  • Original Habitat: Europe and environs
  • Bloom Time: They bloom around June and July.
  • Unique Feature: The flower stem of smooth hawksbeard is branching, thin and dark.
  • Just like coltsfoots, smooth hawksbeard plants can grow up to 18 inches tall.

– Annual Sowthistle (Sonchus Oleraceus)

As its name suggests, the sowthistle weed is an annual plant. It grows around the western regions of the United States and this plant looks very much like backyard wild lettuce. Some features of this plant include:

  • Suitable USDA hardiness zones: 6-10
  • Uses: People can eat the young leaves of annual sowthistles cooked or raw. Its milky sap can also be extracted to make chewing gum.
  • Original Habitat: It is native to lands and regions in Eurasia and North Africa.
  • Bloom Time: This beautiful weed blooms in late spring and summer. 
  • Unique Feature: It possesses round clasping leaf rings around the point of attachment to the stem.
  • Annual sowthistles can grow up to 48 inches tall.

As you can see, there are so many other plants that look a lot like dandelions and wild lettuces.

How To Control Weed Growth

Even though most of the plants described in this article have some uses, they are still commonly viewed as a weed by many people.

If you do not want these plants around, you should get rid of them. In this section, we’ll be taking a look at some ways to control the weed population around your home or garden.

– Pull Them off Immediately

You should remove every weed as soon as you see them growing. Allowing the unwanted plant to grow until it becomes mature can make it more difficult to remove later.

– Use Mulch

You can use a mulch to block sunlight from reaching the ground. With a tall layer of mulch, weeds will not be able to grow from the soil below. You can use either organic and inorganic mulch, but inorganic mulch is better.

– Grow Cover Plants

Cover crops such as barley, wheat and millet not only produce grains for you, but they also prevent weeds from growing.

– Employ Farm Animals

Animals such as sheep, cows and goats will happily eat your weeds for you. Do not allow these animals to enter your farm and make sure that the weeds are not toxic to them.

– Spray Herbicides

Herbicides are products that can be used to stop the growth of weeds in your yard for a while. You can use herbicides to repel weeds from growing near your home.

Preventing the growth of weeds before they become uncontrollable is always a good idea.

Conclusion

Wild lettuce vs dandelions, what is the difference? Here are some of the most important points we discussed in this article that you should not forget:

  • Dandelions are perennial while wild lettuces are biennial.
  • While dandelions and wild lettuces have the same type of flowers, dandelions only grow one flower per stalk while wild lettuces can grow more than one flower per stalk.
  • Dandelions are native to North America while wild lettuces are native to Europe and Asia.
  • Other similar plants include hawkbits, coltsfoot and hawksbeard.
  • Dandelions can grow up to 12 inches tall while wild lettuces grow up to 72 inches tall.
  • The leaves of both plants are indented, but dandelion leaf edges look sharper than those of wild lettuces’.

Now that you know the difference between dandelions and wild lettuces, you can now easily identify and differentiate between both plants.

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