As a grower of small grains and seed crops, the article titled “China lettuce a challenging weed for many wheat farmers” caught my eye. Thinking it was a new Asiatic species introduced to our region, I read the article.
Turns out that “China lettuce” is merely ignorant slang for the plant called prickly lettuce, or as it is known in the scientific community Lactuca serriola, i.e. prickly lettuce in Latin. The plant is native to the region around the Mediterranean and was introduced to both the Americas and Asia from that point of origin. It is the uncultivated sister species to another European plant, Lactuca sativa, the familiar salad lettuce found at your local grocer or farmers’ market.
As the seeds of the cultivated and wild forms are virtually the same, the weed was likely spread across the country by well-meaning gardeners and farmers who carried on the European tradition of green salads.
Modern agricultural methods with their reliance on herbicides have made winter annuals such as this wild lettuce a challenge. Take a look at the amazing diversity of cultivated lettuces in the market or seed catalog, and you can see why their wild relative is well-equipped to evade whatever chemistry is thrown at it.
Organic grain growers, such as myself, follow the ancient advice of letting the winter annuals sprout in a freshly prepared field before drilling and packing in the desired winter annual, be it mustard seed, barley, rye or wheat. After thousands of years, the method still works nicely.
Prickly lettuce has no connection to China. Mischaracterizations such as “China lettuce” should have no place in university communications or trade publications. It is ignorant, mean-spirited slang with no basis in history, culture or genetics.