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Marsh Sow-thistle

Sonchus palustris

Please keep in mind that it is illegal to uproot a plant without the landowner's consent and care should be taken at all times not to damage wild plants. Wild plants should never be picked for pleasure and some plants are protected by law.
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Plant Profile

Flowering Months:
Asteraceae (Daisy)
Also in this family:
Alpine Blue Sow-thistle, Alpine Cotula, Alpine Fleabane, Alpine Saw-wort, Annual Ragweed, Annual Sunflower, Argentine Fleabane, Autumn Hawkbit, Autumn Oxeye, Beaked Hawksbeard, Beggarticks, Bilbao Fleabane, Black Knapweed, Black-eyed Susan, Blanketflower, Blue Fleabane, Blue Globe-thistle, Bristly Oxtongue, Broad-leaved Cudweed, Broad-leaved Ragwort, Brown Knapweed, Butterbur, Buttonweed, Cabbage Thistle, Canadian Fleabane, Canadian Goldenrod, Carline Thistle, Chalk Knapweed, Chamois Ragwort, Changing Michaelmas Daisy, Chicory, Chinese Mugwort, Chinese Ragwort, Coltsfoot, Common Blue Sow-thistle, Common Cat's-ear, Common Cudweed, Common Daisy, Common Dandelion, Common Fleabane, Common Goldenrod, Common Groundsel, Common Michaelmas Daisy, Common Mugwort, Common Ragwort, Common Wormwood, Coneflower, Confused Michaelmas Daisy, Corn Chamomile, Corn Marigold, Cornflower, Cotton Thistle, Cottonweed, Creeping Thistle, Daisy Bush, Dwarf Cudweed, Dwarf Thistle, Early Goldenrod, Eastern Groundsel, Eastern Leopardsbane, Elecampane, English Hawkweed, Fen Ragwort, Feverfew, Field Fleawort, Field Wormwood, Fox and Cubs, French Tarragon, Gallant Soldier, Garden Lettuce, Giant Butterbur, Glabrous-headed Hawkweed, Glandular Globe-thistle, Glaucous Michaelmas Daisy, Globe Artichoke, Globe-thistle, Goat's Beard, Golden Ragwort, Golden Samphire, Goldilocks Aster, Grass-leaved Goldenrod, Great Lettuce, Greater Burdock, Greater Knapweed, Grey-headed Hawkweed, Guernsey Fleabane, Hairless Blue Sow-thistle, Hairless Leptinella, Hairy Michaelmas Daisy, Harpur Crewe's Leopardsbane, Hawkweed Oxtongue, Heath Cudweed, Heath Groundsel, Hemp Agrimony, Highland Cudweed, Hoary Mugwort, Hoary Ragwort, Hybrid Knapweed, Intermediate Burdock, Irish Fleabane, Jersey Cudweed, Jerusalem Artichoke, Lance-leaved Hawkweed, Lavender-cotton, Leafless Hawksbeard, Least Lettuce, Leopardplant, Leopardsbane, Leptinella, Lesser Burdock, Lesser Hawkbit, Lesser Sunflower, London Bur-marigold, Magellan Ragwort, Marsh Cudweed, Marsh Hawksbeard, Marsh Ragwort, Marsh Thistle, Meadow Thistle, Melancholy Thistle, Mexican Fleabane, Milk Thistle, Mountain Everlasting, Mouse-ear Hawkweed, Musk Thistle, Narrow-leaved Cudweed, Narrow-leaved Hawkweed, Narrow-leaved Michaelmas Daisy, Narrow-leaved Ragwort, New England Hawkweed, New Zealand Holly, Nipplewort, Nodding Bur-marigold, Northern Hawksbeard, Norwegian Mugwort, Oxeye Daisy, Oxford Ragwort, Pearly Everlasting, Perennial Cornflower, Perennial Ragweed, Perennial Sow-thistle, Perennial Sunflower, Pineapple Mayweed, Plantain-leaved Leopardsbane, Ploughman's Spikenard, Plymouth Thistle, Pontic Blue Sow-thistle, Pot Marigold, Prickly Lettuce, Prickly Sow-thistle, Purple Coltsfoot, Rayed Tansy, Red Star Thistle, Red-seeded Dandelion, Red-tipped Cudweed, Robin's Plantain, Roman Chamomile, Rough Cocklebur, Rough Hawkbit, Rough Hawksbeard, Russian Lettuce, Safflower, Salsify, Saw-wort, Scented Mayweed, Scentless Mayweed, Sea Aster, Sea Mayweed, Sea Wormwood, Seaside Daisy, Shaggy Mouse-ear Hawkweed, Shaggy Soldier, Shasta Daisy, Shetland Mouse-ear Hawkweed, Shrub Ragwort, Sicilian Chamomile, Silver Ragwort, Slender Mugwort, Slender Thistle, Small Cudweed, Small Fleabane, Smooth Cat's-ear, Smooth Hawksbeard, Smooth Sow-thistle, Sneezeweed, Sneezewort, Spear Thistle, Spotted Cat's-ear, Spotted Hawkweed, Sticky Groundsel, Stinking Chamomile, Stinking Hawksbeard, Tall Fleabane, Tall Mouse-ear Hawkweed, Tansy, Thin-leaved Sunflower, Treasureflower, Trifid Bur-marigold, Tuberous Thistle, Tyneside Leopardplant, Viper's Grass, Wall Lettuce, Welsh Groundsel, Welted Thistle, White African Daisy, White Butterbur, White Buttons, Willdenow's Leopardsbane, Winter Heliotrope, Wood Burdock, Wood Ragwort, Woody Fleabane, Woolly Thistle, Yarrow, Yellow Chamomile, Yellow Fox and Cubs, Yellow Oxeye, Yellow Star Thistle, Yellow Thistle, York Groundsel
Life Cycle:
Maximum Size:
2 metres tall
Ditches, fens, marshes, riverbanks, riversides, seaside, swamps, waterside, wetland.

Yellow, many petals
Compact clusters of pale yellow flowers. Individual flowers each measure up to 4cm across. The bracts are covered in sticky green hairs.
The fruit is a dark brown, oblong, flattened achene. There is a pappus of white hairs present at one end of the fruit.
A perennial plant with sticky, hairy, greyish-green, untoothed leaves. The leaves are also narrow with pointed lobes. The auricles of the leaves are pointed and clasp the stems. Marsh Sow-thistle is similar in appearance to Perennial Sow-thistle (Sonchus arvensis). Marsh Sow-thistle is taller with less regularly serrated leaf margins. The leaves also end in a long, triangular point and have a waxy coating.
Other Names:
Swamp Sowthistle.
Frequency (UK):

Similar Species

Other Information


Sonchus palustris, also known as "marsh sowthistle" or "swamp sowthistle," is a perennial herb that is native to Europe, Asia and North America. It is a hardy plant that can grow in a variety of soil types and can tolerate wet and marshy conditions. It can be found in wetland areas, along ditches, streams and in other low-lying areas. The plant has large leaves and yellow flowers that can reach up to 6 feet tall. The leaves and flowers are edible, but they are not commonly used as food. It has been used in traditional medicine to treat various ailments such as skin irritations and infections. It is also known as a host plant for several species of butterflies and moths, and it can be used as a food source for some wetland birds.


Marsh Sow-thistle (Sonchus palustris) is a herbaceous plant species that is commonly found in damp or wet areas, such as marshes, bogs, and riverbanks. It is a member of the Asteraceae family and is closely related to other species of Sow-thistle, such as the Common Sow-thistle (Sonchus oleraceus).

Appearance and Habitat

The Marsh Sow-thistle is a tall plant that can grow up to 2 meters in height. Its leaves are dark green, long and narrow with deeply toothed edges. The flowers are bright yellow and are arranged in clusters at the top of the stem. The plant prefers moist soils and can often be found growing in or around shallow water.


The Marsh Sow-thistle has been used for centuries as a medicinal herb. The leaves and roots are edible and have been used as a vegetable in some cultures. The plant is high in nutrients, including vitamins A and C, and is rich in minerals such as calcium, potassium, and iron. It has also been used to treat various ailments, such as liver and kidney disorders, digestive problems, and skin irritations.

In addition to its medicinal uses, the Marsh Sow-thistle is also an important food source for wildlife. The plant is a host to several species of insects and is often visited by bees and butterflies. It is also a food source for several bird species, including the American Goldfinch and the Pine Siskin.


The Marsh Sow-thistle is considered a species of least concern by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). However, like many wetland plants, it is vulnerable to habitat loss and degradation caused by human activities such as agriculture, urban development, and drainage of wetlands. Conservation efforts, such as protection of wetland habitats, are essential to ensure the survival of this and other wetland plant species.

The Marsh Sow-thistle is a fascinating and important plant species with a rich history of use in traditional medicine and as a food source for both humans and wildlife. It is also a valuable indicator of wetland health and serves an important ecological function in its habitat. Protecting wetland habitats, including those that are home to the Marsh Sow-thistle, is essential to ensure the survival of this and other wetland plant species and the many benefits they provide.

Taxonomy and Distribution

The Marsh Sow-thistle is a plant species that is native to Europe and Asia but has been introduced and naturalized in North America, South America, and Australia. It belongs to the family Asteraceae, which includes many familiar plants such as daisies, sunflowers, and asters. The genus Sonchus includes around 60 species, many of which are known as Sow-thistles due to their resemblance to the common garden weed.

Medicinal Properties

The Marsh Sow-thistle has a long history of use in traditional medicine for its various medicinal properties. It has been used as a diuretic, laxative, and tonic, and has been found to have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. The plant contains various chemical compounds, including flavonoids, sesquiterpene lactones, and phenolic acids, which are responsible for its medicinal properties.

Edible Uses

The Marsh Sow-thistle has edible leaves, stems, and roots that have been used as a food source in some cultures. The leaves and stems are rich in nutrients, including vitamins A and C, and have a slightly bitter taste. The roots are also edible but are tougher and more fibrous than the leaves and stems. The plant has been used as a vegetable in salads, stir-fries, and soups.

Wildlife Habitat and Ecological Importance

The Marsh Sow-thistle is an important plant species for wildlife habitat and has a variety of ecological roles. The plant is a host to several species of insects, including the Marsh Sow-thistle Leaf Beetle (Gastrophysa polygoni), which feeds exclusively on Sow-thistle plants. The plant is also an important food source for various bird species, such as the American Goldfinch and the Pine Siskin, which eat the seeds.

The Marsh Sow-thistle also plays a role in stabilizing wetland soils and preventing erosion. Its deep roots help to anchor the plant in the soft soils of wetland habitats, and its above-ground biomass helps to trap sediment and slow down the flow of water, which helps to reduce erosion and promote the development of other wetland plant species.

The Marsh Sow-thistle is a fascinating plant species with a rich history of use in traditional medicine and as a food source for both humans and wildlife. It serves an important ecological function in wetland habitats and plays a role in stabilizing soils and preventing erosion. Protecting wetland habitats is essential to ensure the survival of this and other wetland plant species and the many benefits they provide.

Cultural Significance

The Marsh Sow-thistle has been used in various cultural practices around the world. In Chinese traditional medicine, the plant has been used to treat a variety of ailments, including respiratory disorders, liver and kidney disorders, and skin conditions. In Europe, the plant has been used in folk medicine to treat digestive problems, and the juice of the plant has been used as a remedy for warts and other skin irritations.

The Marsh Sow-thistle has also been used in traditional culinary practices. In Japan, the young shoots of the plant are harvested and pickled in salt and vinegar, while in Korea, the leaves are used to make a traditional soup called Sigeumchi Doenjang Guk. In Italy, the leaves and stems are used to make a traditional dish called Agretti, which is often served with fish.

Conservation Efforts

Wetlands are among the most threatened ecosystems in the world, with an estimated 64% loss of wetland habitat worldwide since 1900. Wetland loss and degradation are primarily caused by human activities such as drainage, urbanization, and agricultural expansion. In order to protect the Marsh Sow-thistle and other wetland plant species, conservation efforts must focus on protecting and restoring wetland habitats.

Several organizations around the world are working to protect wetlands and the plants and animals that depend on them. These efforts include the creation of protected areas, wetland restoration projects, and education and outreach programs to raise awareness of the importance of wetlands and the threats they face.


The Marsh Sow-thistle is a fascinating plant species with a rich history of use in traditional medicine and as a food source for both humans and wildlife. It plays an important ecological role in wetland habitats and is a valuable indicator of wetland health. Protecting wetlands is essential to ensure the survival of this and other wetland plant species, as well as the many benefits they provide to humans and the environment.

Distribution Map

Reproduced by kind permission of the BSBI.

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