Vascular Plants of North Carolina
Account for Hairy Lettuce - Lactuca hirsuta   Muhlenberg ex Nuttall
Members of Asteraceae:
Members of Lactuca with account distribution info or public map:
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Section 6 » Order Asterales » Family Asteraceae
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AuthorMuhlenberg ex Nuttall
DistributionCoastal Plain (mostly northern) and lower Piedmont; disjunct to the low Mountains. Absent from the Sandhills and most of the Piedmont. Most collection records are from before the publication of RAB (1968), as the counties of collections in SERNEC and on the map below are virtually the same, and no obviously "new" collections are apparent, except for Robeson County (2010). Some specimens from the lower Coastal Plain, such as in Carteret County, might not be correctly identified.

N.S. to southern Ont., south to northern FL and TX.
AbundanceFormerly uncommon in the northern Coastal Plain, and rare over the central and southern Coastal Plain, the eastern Piedmont, and in the Mountains. Certainly it has declined in the state, apparently alarmingly, and few if any recent botanists/biologists have seen it. Thus, the editors are making a drastic suggested State Rank of S1? (from the NCNHP's S3? rank) and believe that it should go onto a Watch List, and probably onto the Significantly Rare list. The disappearance of the species from NC mirrors that from some or many other areas within its fairly large range; perhaps it was adapted to fire for survival. For example, plants at a site in Wake County in 2021 showed up only about two months after a prescribed burn; they were not there in previous years (though there must have been seeds in the soil litter).
HabitatDry sandy or rocky soils of pine-deciduous woodlands and hardwoods, including openings and edges; rocky slopes, wooded roadsides. Seems to strongly favor fire for its survival.
PhenologyFlowering and fruiting late May-October.
IdentificationAs its name suggests, Hairy Lettuce has a rather hairy stem and leaf midribs; however, some plants are sparsely hairy. The stem, especially the upper stem and flower stalks, are often strikingly purple or reddish-purple. Leaves ascend far up the stem and are deeply lobed, each lobe with the outer end broader than the inner -- resembling some leaves of oaks such as Post Oak (Quercus stellata) or Overcup Oak (Q. lyrata). Heads are usually yellow or orangey yellow, but apparently some may be bluish. Yellow-flowered plants can be told from Canada Lettuce (L. canadensis) by hairy stem (vs. glabrate) and by broad-tipped, oak-like leaf lobes and the purplish upper stem. Blue-flowered plants can be told from Grassleaf Lettuce (L. graminifolia) by most of the leaves deeply lobed, including stem leaves, and these lobes broad-tipped instead of narrow-tipped. Weakley (2022) also adds this important gestalt separation: "Lactuca hirsuta has a more open inflorescence, with long secondary branches that are widely spreading (almost perpendicular) from the stem, with fewer, spatially widely scattered flowers pointed in many directions (in contract to Lactuca canadensis and other Lactuca that tend to have all branches ascending, with flowers closer together and often facing upward/skyward."
Taxonomic CommentsNone

Other Common Name(s)Tall Hairy Lettuce
State RankS3? [S1?]
Global RankG5? [G4?]
State Status[W1]
US Status
County Map - click on a county to view source of record.
Photo Gallery
Bryan Englandnorthern Wake County; 24 June 2021 WakePhoto_natural
Harry LeGrandnorthern Wake County; 25 June 2021 WakePhoto_natural

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