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Perennial Sow-thistle

Sonchus arvensis

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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 Sow-thistle, 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 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:
120 centimetres tall
Ditches, fens, fields, gardens, grassland, hedgerows, marshes, meadows, riverbanks, roadsides, seaside, wasteland, waterside, woodland.

Yellow, many petals
Perennial Sow-thistle produces distinctive and vibrant yellow flowers that contribute to its dandelion-like appearance. The flowers form in clusters at the ends of its tall, erect stems and are composed of numerous ray florets. Each individual floret has a slender tubular structure with five deeply lobed petals, giving the overall flowerhead a sunburst-like shape. The bright yellow coloration of the petals contrasts prominently with the green foliage, making the plant easily identifiable. The flowering period typically occurs during the summer months, and the conspicuous blooms play a crucial role in the plant's reproductive cycle, producing seeds that contribute to its ability to spread and establish in various habitats.
The fruit of Perennial Sow-thistle consists of small, dry achenes, each attached to a fluffy, parachute-like structure known as a pappus. As the plant completes its flowering stage, the ovary of each fertilized flower develops into a single-seeded fruit. These fruits are elongated, cylindrical structures with a pointed tip and are equipped with a downy, white pappus that aids in wind dispersal. The pappus allows the seeds to catch the wind, facilitating their widespread distribution to new locations. This adaptive mechanism ensures the plant's ability to colonize diverse habitats and contributes to its invasive nature. The combination of the achenes and the pappus gives the plant an efficient means of reproduction and colonization, allowing it to thrive in a variety of environments.
The leaves of Perennial Sow-thistle are distinctive with a deeply lobed and irregularly toothed structure. These basal leaves form a rosette at the base of the plant, while the stem leaves alternate and clasp the stem with pointed auricles. The leaves are typically dark green, and their surface may exhibit a slightly hairy texture. Each lobe of the leaf has spiny edges, contributing to the overall serrated appearance. The leaves can vary in size, with basal leaves being larger and stem leaves becoming progressively smaller as they ascend the erect stems. The spiny nature of the leaves acts as a deterrent against herbivores and may contribute to the plant's resilience in various habitats. Overall, the leaves of Perennial Sow-thistle are visually distinctive and aid in the identification of this plant species.
Perennial Sow-thistle does not possess a distinct or notable aroma. The plant is not generally known for emitting any strong fragrance, and its olfactory characteristics are not a prominent feature. While some plants are renowned for their aromatic qualities, Perennial Sow-thistle focuses more on its visual attributes, such as the vibrant yellow flowers and spiny leaves, rather than any discernible scent. As a result, encounters with Perennial Sow-thistle are typically associated with its visual impact rather than any distinctive or fragrant aroma.
Other Names:
Corn Sow-thistle, Creeping Sow-thistle, Dindle, Field Milk Thistle, Field Sow-thistle, Gutweed, Hare's Colewort, Hare's Lettuce, Hare's Palace, Swine Thistle, Swinies, Tree Sow-thistle.
Frequency (UK):

Similar Species

Other Information


Sonchus arvensis, also known as "perennial sowthistle" or "corn sowthistle," is a perennial herb that is native to Europe and Asia. It is a hardy plant that can grow in a variety of soil types and can tolerate shade and dry conditions. It can be found in grasslands, meadows, along roadsides and in croplands. It is considered as a weed in some regions, and it can be difficult to control as it reproduces both by seed and underground rhizomes. The plant has large leaves and yellow flowers that can reach up to 3-4 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.


Perennial Sow-thistle, also known as Sonchus arvensis, is a weed commonly found in fields, gardens, and disturbed areas throughout much of the world. While it may be considered an invasive species in some regions, it can also have beneficial properties and uses.


Perennial Sow-thistle is a perennial plant that grows up to 4 feet tall. It has a deep taproot, and its leaves are dark green and slightly glossy with wavy, toothed edges. The stems of the plant are hollow and may have a milky sap when broken. The plant produces yellow flowers that resemble dandelions and can bloom from late spring through fall.

Habitat and Distribution

Perennial Sow-thistle is native to Europe and Asia but has spread to other parts of the world, including North America, South America, Australia, and New Zealand. It is commonly found in disturbed areas such as roadsides, fields, gardens, and waste areas. It can grow in a variety of soils and prefers full sun to partial shade.

Uses and Benefits

Despite being considered a weed, Perennial Sow-thistle has some beneficial properties and uses. The plant is edible and can be consumed cooked or raw. The leaves can be added to salads or cooked as a vegetable, and the root can be boiled and eaten like a vegetable as well. The plant is high in vitamins A and C, as well as potassium and calcium.

Perennial Sow-thistle has also been used for medicinal purposes. The milky sap of the plant has been used to treat warts, calluses, and other skin conditions. The plant has also been used to treat digestive issues, such as constipation and diarrhea, and to reduce inflammation.

Control and Management

While Perennial Sow-thistle has its benefits, it can also be considered a nuisance or invasive species in some areas. The plant can spread rapidly and outcompete native vegetation, reducing biodiversity. The best way to control the plant is to prevent it from spreading in the first place. This can be done by avoiding disturbed areas, keeping gardens and fields well-maintained, and removing the plant as soon as it appears. In addition, physical or chemical control methods can be used to remove the plant.

Perennial Sow-thistle may be considered a weed in some areas, but it also has its benefits and uses. The plant is edible, nutritious, and has medicinal properties. However, it can also be invasive and reduce biodiversity in some areas. By managing the plant and preventing its spread, we can ensure that it has a place in our ecosystems without causing harm to native species.

More Information

In addition to its edible and medicinal properties, Perennial Sow-thistle has other interesting features. For example, the plant's leaves are covered in tiny hairs that help to protect it from herbivores. The hairs can cause skin irritation for some people, so it's important to handle the plant with care.

Perennial Sow-thistle is also a host plant for a variety of insects, including aphids, which are an important food source for other animals. The plant's flowers attract bees and other pollinators, making it a valuable addition to gardens and other habitats.

The plant's seeds can also be dispersed over long distances by wind, making it a challenge to control once it has established itself in an area. In some regions, Perennial Sow-thistle has been designated as a noxious weed and is subject to control measures.

While Perennial Sow-thistle may be considered a weed in some areas, it also has its benefits and plays an important role in our ecosystems. By managing it carefully and using it in a responsible manner, we can ensure that it continues to be a valuable part of our natural world.

Perennial Sow-thistle is part of the Asteraceae family, which also includes other well-known plants such as sunflowers, daisies, and asters. Like many other members of this family, the plant produces small flowers that are arranged in a composite inflorescence, with each flower head consisting of many tiny flowers.

The plant has been used by humans for thousands of years, with evidence of its use dating back to ancient Greece and Rome. The plant was considered to have medicinal properties and was used to treat a variety of ailments, including liver and kidney problems, rheumatism, and skin conditions.

In addition to its historical uses, Perennial Sow-thistle has also been studied for its potential pharmacological properties. Researchers have found that the plant contains compounds that have anti-inflammatory, anti-tumor, and anti-diabetic properties. These properties may make it useful for the development of new drugs in the future.

While Perennial Sow-thistle may be considered a weed in some areas, it is a fascinating plant with many interesting features and potential uses. Whether it's being used as an edible or medicinal plant, or studied for its pharmacological properties, Perennial Sow-thistle is a plant that deserves our attention and respect.

Perennial Sow-thistle can also have ecological benefits. The plant has a deep taproot that can help to improve soil structure and promote soil health. The root system can also help to stabilize soil and prevent erosion, making it a useful plant in areas where erosion is a problem.

The plant's leaves and stems can also provide habitat and food for a variety of insects and other animals. The leaves of the plant are a food source for a number of butterfly and moth species, including the Painted Lady butterfly. The plant's flowers also attract a variety of pollinators, including bees, butterflies, and hoverflies.

In addition, the plant's seeds can provide a food source for a variety of birds, including finches and sparrows. The plant's ability to provide food and habitat for a range of species makes it an important component of many ecosystems.

While Perennial Sow-thistle can be a challenging plant to manage in some areas, it's important to remember that it also has its benefits. By understanding the plant's ecological, cultural, and medicinal value, we can work to balance its potential benefits with the need to manage it in areas where it is considered a nuisance or invasive species.

Perennial Sow-thistle is a hardy plant that can tolerate a wide range of environmental conditions. It can grow in a variety of soils, including sandy, loamy, and clay soils, and can also grow in areas with high levels of salt or alkaline soils.

The plant is capable of reproducing both vegetatively and by seed, which can make it difficult to control. The taproot can produce new shoots if the plant is cut or damaged, and the plant's ability to produce large numbers of seeds means that it can quickly colonize an area if left unchecked.

Managing Perennial Sow-thistle can be challenging, but there are a number of strategies that can be used to control its spread. These include cultural, mechanical, and chemical control methods. Cultural methods include practices such as crop rotation and soil management, while mechanical methods include hand-pulling, hoeing, and mowing. Chemical methods can also be used, but care must be taken to ensure that they are applied safely and in a manner that minimizes damage to other plants and the environment.

In some cases, it may be more appropriate to manage Perennial Sow-thistle rather than attempting to eradicate it completely. This can involve implementing practices that allow the plant to grow in a controlled manner and using it for its potential ecological and cultural benefits, while minimizing its negative impacts on other plants and the environment.

In conclusion, Perennial Sow-thistle is a plant with a long history of human use and potential ecological benefits, but can also be a challenging plant to manage in some areas. By understanding the plant's properties and potential uses, we can work to manage it in a manner that balances its potential benefits with the need to control its spread.

15 Perennial Sow-thistle Facts

  1. Botanical Name: Perennial Sow-thistle is scientifically known as Sonchus arvensis.

  2. Family: It belongs to the Asteraceae family, which is the same family as daisies and sunflowers.

  3. Appearance: The plant has lobed leaves with spiny edges, and its stems are hollow, erect, and can grow quite tall.

  4. Flowers: Perennial Sow-thistle produces yellow flowers with a characteristic dandelion-like appearance.

  5. Invasive Nature: It is considered an invasive weed and can rapidly spread, competing with native vegetation.

  6. Distribution: Perennial Sow-thistle is found in various habitats, including fields, gardens, roadsides, and disturbed areas.

  7. Life Cycle: As the name suggests, it is a perennial plant, meaning it can live for more than two years.

  8. Root System: The plant has an extensive root system, allowing it to survive and regrow after being cut or mowed.

  9. Reproduction: It reproduces both by seeds and vegetatively through its extensive root system.

  10. Ecological Impact: The invasive nature of Perennial Sow-thistle can impact the biodiversity of ecosystems by outcompeting native plants.

  11. Edible Parts: Some parts of the plant, including young leaves and shoots, are edible and have been used in traditional medicine and as a food source in certain cultures.

  12. Wildlife Habitat: Despite its invasive tendencies, Perennial Sow-thistle can provide habitat and food for certain wildlife species.

  13. Medical Uses: In folk medicine, extracts from the plant have been used for their potential diuretic and anti-inflammatory properties.

  14. Cultural Significance: In some regions, Perennial Sow-thistle has historical significance, being used in traditional rituals or ceremonies.

  15. Control Measures: Due to its invasive nature, control measures often involve mechanical methods, such as mowing, or chemical methods to manage its spread and impact on ecosystems.


Video 1: Perennial Sow-thistle filmed near Humphrey Head, Cumbria on the 17th July 2022.


Video 2: Perennial Sow-thistle filmed at Milnthorpe, Cumbria on the 13th August 2022, and at Humphrey Head, Cumbria on the 17th July 2022.


Video 3: Perennial Sow-thistle filmed at Glasson in Lancashire on the 30th July 2023.


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Distribution Map

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