Florida lettuce, or woodland lettuce, is an annual or biennial with open, branched clusters of bluish flowers. Flowerheads with up to 17 florets per head. There are no disk flowers. Ray flowers light blue to nearly white, opening a few at a time. Blooms August–October. Leaves mostly on stems, to 12 inches long, deeply lobed almost to midrib, toothed. All parts of plant contain a white, milky juice.
Similar species: There are 7 species of Lactuca in our state. Prickly lettuce (L. serriola) has light yellow flowers that turn blue on wilting; its clasping leaves either lack lobes or are deeply lobed and cut, always with prickly teeth on the margins and midrib on the underside of the leaf. Wild lettuce (L. canadensis) has orangish flowers; its leaves do not clasp the stems and are either entire (unlobed) without prickles or deeply lobed with prickles.
Height: to 8 feet.
Habitat and Conservation
Occurs along banks of streams and rivers, bottomland forests, rich upland forests, savannas, sand savannas, glades, bases of bluffs, margins of ponds and lakes, railroads, roadsides, and open, disturbed areas. A variant form of this species occurs fairly commonly in Missouri; it has unlobed, toothed leaves.
This is a true lettuce and is edible in salads or cooked as “greens.” It can be fairly bitter, however.
The caterpillars of several moths and butterflies feed on this and other lettuces, wild and cultivated. Garden lettuce (L. sativa) is the cultivated lettuce we know from our salad bars. It, too, bleeds a milky sap.