Hawkweeds, Hawk's-beards & Allies

Nipplewort Beaked Hawk's-beard Dappled Hawkweed Common Goat's-beard

What are they?

This is a rather loose association of plants that share rather similar flowers and are all in the the family Asteraceae - a large family of plants that includes dandelions, daisies, thistles, sunflowers and many more. The species on this page are brought together by their rather dandelion-like flowers, but they differ from the true dandelions in being generally much taller and mostly with multi-branched, leafy stems.

Where are they found?

This is a very diverse group of plants but most of them can be found in grassy places, urban areas and waste or cultivated ground. Many of them will be familiar as garden or arable weeds.

Identification

Identifying some of these plants may be daunting at first, but once the general principles are understood and the commoner species learned, the process becomes a little easier. Since the yellow flowerheads are all rather similar, it is necessary to consider other parts of the plant for identification. It is important to study carefully the greenish or brownish, outer part of the flowerheads, which consists of a series of overlapping, leaf-like structures known as phyllaries. Note also whether the flower stem is branched or simple, and note whether the leaves are hairy or not. One or two species can more readily bd separated by leaf or fruiting detail, as indicated under the individual species texts. You may need a hand lens for checking finer detail in some species.

Note: The hawkweeds (Hieracium) are a notoriously difficult group, with over 400 'microspecies' known from Great Britain. We are perhaps fortunate in East Anglia in only having a handful to be concerned about, but even so, the identification of this problematic group often requires the services of a real expert and some plants may need to be left unidentified to species. It is difficult to



Prickly Sow-thistle      Sonchus asper

A very common annual species, most often seen as a weed of arable land, gardens and other disturbed areas. Flowers mostly June to August, but a few plants may occasionally be found flowering in other months. Leaves deeply lobed, hairless and usually quite glossy, the margins with fine, softly spine-tipped teeth. Note the shape of the base of the leaf, which curves into a rounded, ear-like shape that clasps the stem (compare with Smooth Sow-thistle). Stems to 120cm in height, relatively week, with a large hollow at the centre. Flowerheads are carried in loose bundles on long stalks. Copious milky sap oozes out of damaged stems.

Prickly Sow-thistle Prickly Sow-thistle Prickly Sow-thistle Prickly Sow-thistle
Habit
Phyllaries
Leaf base
Seedhead


Smooth Sow-thistle      Sonchus oleraceus

A very common annual species, most often seen as a weed of arable land, gardens and other disturbed areas. Flowers mostly June to August, but a few plants may occasionally be found flowering in other months. Leaves deeply lobed, hairless and usually dull, the margins finely toothed only towards the base. Note the shape of the base of the leaf, which ends in two pointed lobes that clasp the stem (compare with Smooth Sow-thistle). Stems to 120cm in height, relatively week, with a large hollow at the centre. Flowerheads are carried in loose bundles on long stalks. Flowers may be bright yellow like other sow-thistles, or are often a paler, dull creamy colour. Copious milky sap oozes out of damaged stems.

Smooth Sow-thistle Smooth Sow-thistle Smooth Sow-thistle Smooth Sow-thistle
Habit
Phyllaries
Leaf base
Flowers may be yellow
or off-white


Perennial Sow-thistle      Sonchus arvensis

A common species, most often seen as a weed of arable land or disturbed, grassy places, where its perennial root systems can form extensive stands. Flowers mostly July to October, the flowerheads relatively large, up to 5cm across. Leaves deeply lobed, hairless, glossy and usually with a lance-shaped tip. The phyllaries and upper branches of the stems are covered in hairs with bright yellow, glandular tips. Stems to 150cm in height, relatively week, with a large hollow at the centre.

Perennial Sow-thistle Perennial Sow-thistle Perennial Sow-thistle Perennial Sow-thistle
Habit
Phyllaries
Leaf
Seedhead


Marsh Sow-thistle      Sonchus palustris

Very local but can be common where it occurs in wetland habitats in the Norfolk Broads and south through Suffolk's coastal wetlands. Flowers July to September. Leaves long and lance-shaped with two backward-pointing lobes at the base. The phyllaries and upper branches of the stems are covered in glandular hairs. Flowerheads small, but carried high in many-branched bunches. A very stately plant, which may grow to three metres in height and tower above surrounding vegetation.

Marsh Sow-thistle Marsh Sow-thistle Marsh Sow-thistle Marsh Sow-thistle
Habit
Flowerheads
Leaf base
Leaves


Prickly Lettuce      Lactuca serriola

Widespread throughout the East Anglian region and found in a wide range of mostly disturbed habitats, especially along roadsides and rough banks. Flowers July to September. Leaves may be entire with saw-toothed margins, or may be deeply lobed, the latter form being considered native in the Fenland region. Leaves are quite tough and with a greyish bloom on them, like those of cabbages. The underside of the leaf has a row of soft spines along the midrib. Flowerheads are small, typically 1.5-2.5cm across, but carried in quantity on many-branched, flowering spikes. Stems to 120cm in height. Sometimes difficult to distinguish from Great Lettuce and best told from it by the light brown or straw-coloured seeds.

Prickly Lettuce Prickly Lettuce Prickly Lettuce
Entire leaves
Lobed leaves
Fruits


Great Lettuce      Lactuca virosa

Once much less common than Prickly Lettuce but now spreading rapidly through the region, mostly on rough banks along major road ways. Probably native in coastal grasslands and still most common along the North Norfolk coast and coastal south-east Suffolk. Flowers July to September. Leaves may be entire with saw-toothed margins, or may be deeply lobed and are typically a little softer and more pliant than those of Prickly Lettuce. Leaves typically have a purplish tinge to the midrib, although this can be more or less absent on overwintering leaf rosettes. Flowerheads are small, typically 1.5-2.5cm across, but carried in quantity on many-branched, flowering spikes. Stems to 200cm in height. Sometimes difficult to distinguish from Prickly Lettuce and best told from it by the purple-coloured seeds.

Great Lettuce Great Lettuce Great Lettuce Great Lettuce
Flowerhead
Entire leaves
Lobed leaves
Fruits


Wall Lettuce      Mycelis muralis

A rather local plant, more widespread in Norfolk than elsewhere in the region. Typically found in shady places on dry banks, but also commonly found in churchyards and old gardens where it often grows from cracks in old walls. Flowers July to September. Leaves smooth, strongly lobed into sharply angular sections. Flowerheads are small, typically 1-1.5cm across, consisting of five florets and carried in quantity on a spreading, many-branched spike. Stems to 100cm in height, often strongly tinged purple.

Wall Lettuce Wall Lettuce Wall Lettuce
Habit
Flowerhead
Leaf


Smooth Hawk's-beard      Crepis capillaris

Very common throughout the region in all kinds of grassy places, as well as urban and arable environments. Flowers mostly June to September but odd flowers may be found in other months, too. Leaves smooth, the margins variably lobed or almost entire. Flowering stems smooth, without bracts on them. The flowerhead is rounded at the base and abruptly narrowed into the stem, forming a goblet shape. Flowerheads small, typically only 1-1.3cm across. Phyllaries with white hairs and usually a few dark bristles. This species is extremely variable and typically can grow to 75cm in height, with branching, lightly leafy stems. However, in short turf or mown areas, it may often throw up short stems with single flowerheads.

Smooth Hawk's-beard Smooth Hawk's-beard Smooth Hawk's-beard Smooth Hawk's-beard
Habit
Phyllaries
Leaf
Seedhead


Beaked Hawk's-beard      Crepis vesicaria

Widespread and generally common in grassy places, especially on roadsides, waste ground and in urban environments. Flowers May to July. Basal leaves stalked, lightly downy and deeply lobed in a manner similar to dandelions. Upper leaves narrower and clasping the lightly hairy stems. Flowerheads 1.5-2.5cm across, petals often orange on the back. Long, inner phyllaries tight against the flowerhead; shorter, outer phyllaries curved outward. Even before they are ripe, the seeds can be seen to have a narrow, elongated 'beak' at the top, between the seed and the tuft of silky white hairs (pappus) that serves to distribute the seed by wind.

Beaked Hawk's-beard Beaked Hawk's-beard Beaked Hawk's-beard Beaked Hawk's-beard
Flowerheads
Flowerheads
Leaf
Fruits


Rough Hawk's-beard      Crepis biennis

A scarce plant, found in small quantity scattered across the region in rough, grassy places where it is most likely turns up as a constituent of grass seed mixes. Flowers June to July. Leaves variably lobed and clasping the grooved stems. Flowerheads relatively large, 2-3.5cm across, petals not orange on the back. Long, inner phyllaries tight against the flowerhead; shorter, outer phyllaries curved outward. Seeds without a narrow, elongated 'beak' at the top and thus appearing very short when compared with those of the much commoner Beaked Hawk's-beard.

Rough Hawk's-beard Rough Hawk's-beard Rough Hawk's-beard Rough Hawk's-beard
Flowerheads
Phyllaries
Leaf
Fruits


Hawkweed Oxtongue      Picris echioides

A scarce and declining species, confined to low nutrient chalk grassland. Flowers July to September. A branched but rather upright, bristly species, to 90cm in height. Leaves long, lance-shaped with a few shallow lobes and often with wavy edges. Phyllaries relatively broad and spreading, giving a rather spikey look to the base of the flowerheads and a useful way to tell this species from the rather similar hawk's-beards.

Hawkweed Oxtongue Hawkweed Oxtongue Hawkweed Oxtongue Hawkweed Oxtongue
Flowerheads
Phyllaries
Phyllaries
Leaf


Bristly Oxtongue      Picris echioides

A common species that seems to favour heavy clay soils, growing well on field margins, tracksides and coastal embankments, especially where the soil is compacted. Flowers July to September. A roughly bristly plant with the leaves bearing whitish, blister-like bumps. Stems are much-branched, forming rounded, bushy plants to 90cm in height. Flowers have distinctive, very broad, bristly lower phyllaries that are unlike those of any similar species.

Bristly Oxtongue Bristly Oxtongue Bristly Oxtongue Bristly Oxtongue
Habit
Flowerhead
Phyllaries
Leaf


Broad-leaved Hawkweed      Hieracium sabaudum

A scarce species, most frequently found on acidic soils northwest of Norwich and in the southeast corner of Suffolk, but also scattered elsewhere. Flowers mostly June to August. Leaves relatively broad, irregularly and shallowly lobed; basal and mid stem leaves stalked, upper leaves clasping the stem and with rounded bases. Plants grow as a single, unbranched stem with many stem leaves, only branching at the top to produce a cluster of flowerheads. Phyllaries held flat to the flowerhead, not recurved, hairy, but not densely so.

Broad-leaved Hawkweed Broad-leaved Hawkweed Broad-leaved Hawkweed Broad-leaved Hawkweed
Flowerheads
Phyllaries
Mid stem leaf
Upper leaf


Narrow-leaved Hawkweed      Hieracium umbellatum

A locally frequent species on acidic soils in Breckland, the Suffolk Sandlings, coastal dunes and scattered elsewhere. Flowers June to August. Leaves numerous, stalkless at the base but not clasping the stem, narrow/linear with a few small teeth along the recurved margin. Plants grow as a single, unbranched stem with many stem leaves, only branching at the top to produce a cluster of flowerheads. All except the longest, inner phyllaries are recurved strongly.

Narrow-leaved Hawkweed Narrow-leaved Hawkweed Narrow-leaved Hawkweed Narrow-leaved Hawkweed
Flowerheads
Phyllaries
Leaves
Leaf underside


Dappled Hawkweed      Hieracium scotostictum

Introduced. Rare, but seemingly increasing as a garden escape and urban weed, especially around Cambridge and at a few locations in Norfolk. Flowers June to August. Leaves broad with one or two, shallow lobes; blue-green and boldly splashed with purple. Nearly all leaves basal with 0-1 stem leaves. Most of the plant covered in quite dense, downy hairs.

Dappled Hawkweed Dappled Hawkweed Dappled Hawkweed Dappled Hawkweed
Habit
Flowerhead
Phyllaries
Leaves


Nipplewort      Lapsana communis

Very common throughout the region in all kinds of grassy and shady places, both in urban areas and in the wider countryside. Flowers mostly July to September, occasionally later. Leaves downy, lobed, the end lobe much larger than the side lobes. Flowerheads small, 1.5-2cm across, at the top of open, many branched stems, vgrowing to 90cm in height. Phyllaries stiffly erect. This species is readily told from all others on this page when the seeds start to mature and it can be seen that they have no fringe of hairs (pappus) to help distribute them.

Nipplewort Nipplewort Nipplewort Nipplewort
Habit
Phyllaries
Leaves
Seedhead


Common Goat's-beard      Tragopogon pratensis

A common plant which may be found in most kinds of established grassland. Flowers June to July, the flowers opening on sunny mornings and usually closing by midday (hence the old country name of Jack-go-to-bed-at-noon). A slender species, the long, grass-like leaves having silvery midribs and clasping the stem at their bases. Flowerheads are carried well above the leaves on slender stems. Seedheads much larger than those of others (though beware of the mauve-flowered Salsify).

Common Goat's-beard Common Goat's-beard Common Goat's-beard Common Goat's-beard
Flowerhead
Phyllaries
Leaves
Seedhead