How to tell a dandelion from a smooth sow-thistle

So the only 2 species I got mixed up today whilst being tested on my smart targets were the dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) and smooth sow-thistle (Sonchus oleraceus). It seems silly that a species as common and well known as the dandelion would be difficult to identify but in fact there are many species similar enough to get confused with! In fact the word ‘dandelion’ refers to a group of micro species which are too difficult to tell apart in the field.

So what is the main difference between a dandelion and a smooth sow-thistle? The most prominent difference is that the smooth sow-thistle has upper leaves which clasp the stem at their base. The triangular terminal lobes of the smooth sow-thistle are also more sharp than the dandelion which shows are more blunted and curved terminal lobe. Although it is important to note that both species have fairly jaggedy leaves. Finally, the flowers of the smooth sow-thistle, although resemble those of dandelion, are much paler towards their periphery.

So there you have it, the main differences between a dandelion and smooth sow-thistle. Of course there are other types of sow thistle to be confused with, however I have not had the chance to identify them out in the field yet, but when I do I will be sure to write an article about it!

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