Sep 15 2013

Lettuce or Rattlesnake

Published by at 7:30 am under Plants

Tall White Lettuce, from the top (photo by Kate St. John)

Though I know this plant grows in western Pennsylvania and have seen its mysterious leaves in Spring, the only place I've seen it produce this many flowers is in Maine.

Tall White Lettuce (Prenanthes altissima) is sometimes called Tall Rattlesnakeroot.  It has such variable leaves and flowers that Newcomb's Wildflower Guide keys it out with both five and six repeating parts.

The one distinguishing feature is drooping greenish flowers whose stamens hang below the petals.  I can't think of any other plant that looks like this.

flowers_tallwhitelettuce_maine2012_1398b_kmsTall White Lettuce flowers (photo by Kate St. John)

Descriptions of Tall White Lettuce say it tastes bitter, so why is it called ""lettuce"?

Better yet, why "rattlesnake root"?


(photos by Kate St. John)

3 responses so far

3 Responses to “Lettuce or Rattlesnake”

  1. Rob Protzon 15 Sep 2013 at 8:55 am


    OK, this was so intriguing, especially the name, that you made me look it up 😉

    I didn’t find any reason why the name Rattlesnake Root yet, but I did find more than one source which says that Tall White Lettuce and Tall Rattlesnake Root are different species.

    Tall Rattlesnake Root aka Gall of the Earth: (Prenanthes trifoliata)

    Similar species:
    • White Lettuce (Prenanthes alba)
    • Tall White Lettuce (Prenanthes altissima)
    • Glaucous White Rattlesnake Root (Prenanthes racemosa)

    That being said, there are also references which lump Rattlesnake Root and White Lettuce together.

    So, I give up! 🙂

  2. Kate St. Johnon 15 Sep 2013 at 9:28 am

    I agree, Rob!

  3. Mary Ann Pikeon 16 Sep 2013 at 9:15 am

    My husband and I saw this while hiking in Boyce Maview Park last week and it took me the longest time to figure out what it was. I’ve hiked that park a lot but I guess I’ve just never been in the area where it grows when it was blooming. This was the first time I’d ever seen it.

    Mary Ann

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