Asteraceae: Sunflower Family – Cichorieae (Dandelion) Tribe: Chicory & Lettuce

The Sunflower family is a very large family with over 25,000 members.  Botanists subdivide the family into a number of tribes, of which 14 are represented in Monterey County.  The Cichorieae (Dandelion) tribe has two distinctive features.  First, they all have stems with milky sap.  Second (and more important), they do not have disk and ray flowers like typical daisies.  Instead they have what are called “ligules” which resemble strap-like ray flowers.  Unlike ray flowers, ligules have both male and female parts – without which no reproduction would be possible.  A third difference is that ray flowers have 0–3 lobes at the tip; ligules have 5.  This page covers a mixture of natives and non-natives, plus three relatives of cultivated lettuce.

Chicory – Cichorium intybus

Blooms:

All year

Plant Height:

40–200 cm

Flower Size:

Large

Origin:

Europe

Habitat:

Roadsides & disturbed places below 1500 m

Notes:

Very common in its native Europe, this is a bushy perennial with unmistakable bright blue flowers (white or pink forms are occasionally found).  Some members of this genus are grown for their roots which are used to make a coffee substitute.  New blooms appear in the morning and are more or less spent by afternoon.

White-flowered Hawkweed – Hieracium albiflorum

Blooms:

May–Sept

Plant Height:

40–75 cm

Flower Size:

Medium

Origin:

Native

Habitat:

Woodland

Notes:

Like the California Chicory (Rafinesquia californica, see below), this has panicles of small, pure white flowers.  But it is distinguished by its mostly basal, hairy, entire leaves. The stems are also covered with soft, white hairs. The buds lack the characteristic recurved phyllaries of the California Chicory. 

Willow Lettuce – Lactuca saligna

Blooms:

Mar–June

Plant Height:

50–100 cm

Flower Size:

Small

Origin:

Europe

Habitat:

Roadsides, grassland

Notes:

The inflorescence has few to many heads, in narrow, panicle-like clusters.  Each flower has 5–12 rectangular, pale yellow ligules.  The upper cauline leaves are linear to lanceolate, entire with a hastate, somewhat clasping base — quite different from those of Prickly Lettuce (Lactuca serriola, see below).

Prickly Lettuce – Lactuca serriola

Blooms:

May–Oct

Plant Height:

50–300 cm

Flower Size:

Small

Origin:

Europe

Habitat:

Disturbed places

Notes:

This is the closest wild relative of cultivated lettuce, although it doesn’t taste good. The numerous flowers are borne on loose panicles with 14–20 pale yellow ligules. The flowers usually close by midday. The leaves are very distinctive, and come in two quite different forms.  One has very coarse serrations, and the other is obovate and entire, both with spiny margins. The midrib on the underside of the leaf is also prickly.

California Chicory – Rafinesquia californica

Blooms:

Apr–July

Plant Height:

0.2–1.5 m

Flower Size:

Medium

Origin:

Native

Habitat:

Open scrub, woodland

Notes:

Although very different from the non-native Chicory, this flower can be mistaken for White-flowered Hawkweed (Hieracium albiflorum, see above).  But the coarsely toothed glabrous leaves are quite distinct.  Also distinctive are the recurved outer phyllaries, and the reddish stripe on the outside of some of the ligules. Sometimes many-branched with multiple panicled clusters.