Odd Plant Notes

by Carl Strang

Today I have a couple botanical notes to share. First is a plant I ran across at Mayslake which didn’t quite match up to any species’ description. The flower heads took it to the sow thistles, genus Sonchus, and the yellow heads were small, but the leaves were very odd.

The leaves had large triangular end lobes, with narrow fringes otherwise.

There were several individuals just like this, in the shaded south savanna. After weighing all the possibilities I eventually went with Sonchus asper, the spiny sow thistle. The basal lobes wrapping around the stem are rounded, with only their teeth making them look pointed. Though less spiny than is typical for this species, I attribute that as a response to the low light, limiting the plant’s resources for producing spines.

Nearby, I was struck by the lush growth of a ring of first year garlic mustard plants.

They formed a narrow zone around the scar where a pile of cleared brush was burned last winter.

The minerals leached out from the ash clearly are benefitting these plants. They also may be reaping a nutrient harvest from underground parts of plants killed or weakened by proximity to the fire. The garlic mustard plants themselves grew from seeds this spring, well after the fire had been doused; the seeds clearly could withstand the nearby heat, though any directly under the fire were destroyed.


  1. July 26, 2011 at 5:55 am

    Hi Carl. Could your strange composite be Prenanthes crepidinea, http://jimmccormac.blogspot.com/2010/09/nodding-rattlesnake-root.html? Without seeing the flower heads, I can’t say for sure, but the leaves do look odd for a Sonchus.

  2. July 26, 2011 at 9:38 pm

    The more I look at the photo, the more I think that the texture of the leaf and stem is not right for Prenanthes crepidinea, and that your plant is likely an odd-leaved Sonchus oleraceus or S. asper. I would actually lean towards S. oleraceus. See http://www.missouriplants.com/Yellowalt/Sonchus_asper_page.html.

    • natureinquiries said,

      July 28, 2011 at 6:10 am

      Thanks, Scott,
      I am away from Mayslake for a couple weeks, but can take another look when I get back there.

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