NZ Lifestyle Block - - Pasture Weed Watch - Why is it a weed? Where is it found? Is it toxic? Al­ter­na­tive uses? MILTON MUNRO

This is the time of year I’m out­side tidy­ing up the gar­den, do­ing all the jobs that I should have done over the sum­mer but suc­cess­fully put off in favour of do­ing more ex­cit­ing things. I’m usu­ally arm-deep in the weed­ing, rock­ing out to the ipod, en­joy­ing the tail end of a sunny day.

On one clean-up day, I had amassed quite the pile of weeds - chick­weed, sor­rel, miner’s let­tuce and a huge pile of sow this­tle - when it dawned on me I had made an enor­mous salad. I just needed to add an onion, tomato, feta and nuts!

This month we look at the ed­i­ble and de­li­cious sow this­tle, a broad term for a num­ber of dif­fer­ent mem­bers of the Sonchus fam­ily of weeds found all over New Zealand (and pretty much the world). The most com­mon one you’ll see is Sonchus ol­er­aceus, pic­tured right.

We have a num­ber of in­tro­duced species and a few na­tives. The sow this­tles are in the same fam­ily as dan­de­lions so tech­ni­cally they’re not ac­tu­ally this­tles but mem­bers of the sun­flower fam­ily - let’s say MILTON MUNRO is a soil and plant sci­en­tist for ru­ral sup­ply com­pany PGG Wright­son. He looks at com­mon pas­ture weeds you’ll find on your block and how to deal with them. they’re dis­tant cousins to this­tles.

The term ‘sow this­tle’ comes from the plant’s use as an an­i­mal feed. It was fed to lac­tat­ing sows as the milky la­tex that sow this­tles pro­duce when cut was thought to im­prove milk pro­duc­tion. But all graz­ing an­i­mals love to eat sow this­tle, es­pe­cially rab­bits and hares, and the young leaves and stems are quite de­li­cious in sal­ads too, tast­ing a bit like let­tuce.

In New Zealand, Maori have a spe­cial place in their hearts for sow this­tle. It’s the ‘puha’ of pork and puha fame, specif­i­cally Sonchus kirkii, a na­tive New Zealand sow this­tle. If you can find it - it’s far less com­mon now, pos­si­bly out-com­peted by in­tro­duced sow this­tle species - it’s eas­i­est to iden­tify when at the rosette stage. Com­mon sow this­tle has dis­sected leaves like the ones you can see in the pic­ture just above, while the puha leaf is whole.

How­ever, the com­mon sow this­tle ( Sonchus ol­er­aceus) is waaaay tastier so it is com­monly called puha too.

Sow this­tles are easy to iden­tify: they are pre­dom­i­nantly an­nual weeds and can ger­mi­nate and es­tab­lish pretty much all year-round. They be­gin their life­cy­cle as a flat rosette of ir­reg­u­larly-shaped leaves. This rosette pro­duces a tall stem that se­cretes a milky la­tex when cut or dam­aged. Depend­ing on the species of Sonchus, the stem can grow from 30cm up to a cou­ple of me­tres. They pro­duce a large num­ber of small yel­low-rayed flow­ers, which in turn pro­duce a large num­ber of fluffy seeds that are easily car­ried by the wind. As the plant ages it can change colour from a vi­brant dark green to lighter green and even pur­ple.


Con­trol­ling sow this­tle is a cinch, and I don’t say that too of­ten. Sow this­tles are very sus­cep­ti­ble to me­chan­i­cal con­trol - you can pull them out pretty easily and if cut (with a mower or the like) they can’t re­grow from the root. An­i­mals will hap­pily graze it, and you can pick it for pet birds, rab­bits and guinea pigs.

If you want to use chem­i­cals, al­most any her­bi­cide will do the trick.

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