Mulgedium sibiricum

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Alpine Sow­thistle

Lactuca alpina

  • Name also: Alpine Sow-thistle, Alpine Sow Thistle, Alpine Blue-sow-thistle, Blue Sowthistle
  • Latin synonym: Cicerbita alpina
  • Family: Daisy Family – Compositae, subfamily Cichorioideae (formerly Chicory Family – Cichoriaceae)
  • Growing form: Perennial herb. Rootstock short, sturdy.
  • Height: 70–150 cm (30–60 in.). Stem usually unbranched, reddish brown, upper part with glandular hairs. Containing latex.
  • Flower: Single flower-like capitula approx. 2.5 cm (1 in.) broad, surrounded by involucral bracts. Capitulum flowers light blue–bluish violet (occasionally white), tongue-like, tip 5-toothed. Stamens 5. Gynoecium composed of 2 fused carpels. Involucral bracts in many rows, triangular–tapered, with glandular hairs, purplish–dark. Capitula borne in a narrowly corymbose cluster.
  • Leaves: Alternate, basal leaves stalked, stalk broadly winged, grooved, stem leaves stalkless, amplexicaul. Blade glabrous, hairy along veins, underside bluish grey, with toothed margins, lowest leaves usually pinnate, terminal leaflet larger than rest, broadly triangular, uppermost leaves entire, long-tapered.
  • Fruit: Linear, flat achene, crowned by unbranched hairs.
  • Habitat: Nutritious hollows, spring swamps and rich swamps on hillsides, stream and river banks, tall-growing meadows in lower fell tundra.
  • Flowering time: July–August.

Alpine sowthistle is large and bushy and one of Finland’s most stately herbs, and its abundant stands are easily spotted by passers-by in northern mountain birch woodland and tall-growing meadows. Although it can grow above the tree-line it seeks out loamy places in stream hollows and ravines which provide it with shade, a damp micro-climate and abundant protection from the snow. Alpine sowthistle is at its most handsome when it is flowering at the end of the summer, especially as other vegetation is withering then.

Most alpine sowthistle stands in Finland bloom in gaps in the coniferous forest belt on the slopes of broad-leaved-forest-covered hills, stream banks and around springs. The plant is a sign of healthy forest land: rich broad-leaved forests around Kainuu and Lapland are found only in small patches in a landscape otherwise dominated by barren moors and bogs. The species is mainly found in a belt that stretches from Palamo through Hyrynsalmi, Kuusamo and Salla to Savukoski on the Simo-Tervola ridge and in the Ylläs-Ounas region. There is a clear gap between forest and fell stands that is difficult to explain.

Alpine sowthistle’s young leaf rosette looks a lot like garden lettuce, and they have often been grouped together in the same genus. In Finland it is colloquially named e.g. ‘bear-hay’, and the large animals certainly enjoy the juicy plants, as do elk and reindeer, and people who live in the north have been known to eat it either raw or boiled in reindeer milk.

Siberian Lettuce

Lactuca sibirica, also Mulgedium sibiricum

Another purple-flowered plant grows along river banks in forest areas in Lapland but also in southern Finland; Siberian lettuce is more modest than alpine sowthistle, its leaves aren’t lobed and its capitula aren’t grouped into ovoid racemes.

Other species from the same genus
Other species from the same family

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