Sonchus palustris (Marsh Sow-thistle)


A perennial herb of tall vegetation beside rivers on damp peaty or silty soils rich in nitrogen. It is also moderately tolerant of saline conditions, and can grow near tidal river mouths. Lowland.



World Distribution

Eurosiberian Temperate element.

Broad Habitats

Fen, marsh and swamp (not wooded)

Light (Ellenberg): 7

Moisture (Ellenberg): 8

Reaction (Ellenberg): 7

Nitrogen (Ellenberg): 7


Salt Tolerance (Ellenberg): 1

January Mean Temperature (Celsius): 3.8

July Mean Temperature (Celsius): 16.4

Annual Precipitation (mm): 615

Life form information

Height (cm): 250

Perennation - primary


Life Form - primary




Clonality - primary

Little or no vegetative spread

Comment on Clonality

CloPla1 says that regenerates from root buds; also in GB?

Count of 10km squares in Great Britain: 51

Count of 10km squares in Ireland: 0

Count of 10km squares in the Channel Isles: 0

Atlas Change Index: 0.18

Distribution information

JNCC Designations


Scarce Atlas Account

Scarce Atlas Account: 

Sonchus palustris L.

Marsh sow-thistle

Status: scarce


In England, S. palustris is most often recorded in tall vegetation by major lowland rivers. In Broadland and by the Thames, it characteristically occurs among Phragmites australis in strips of marshy land fringing the river's lower reaches (‘ronds’), but elsewhere in England (as in continental Europe) it is typical of tall-herb vegetation along watercourses, with Filipendula ulmaria, Lythrum salicaria and Stachys palustris. It occasionally grows with Lathyrus palustris, Peucedanum palustre, Sium latifolium and other scarce species in tall-herb fen. It will tolerate partial shade within stands of Phragmites australis and Cladium mariscus, but does not persist in carr. S. palustris grows in wet peaty or alluvial soils which are neutral to alkaline and rich in nitrogen. It is also moderately tolerant of salinity, occurring by the tidal parts of some rivers. 

S. palustris is a tall perennial with an erect rootstock. It reproduces entirely by seed. The achenes have a pappus of long hairs and are wind dispersed.

S. palustris demonstrates different trends in distribution in different parts of its British range. Along the Thames and in Kent, it has declined where industry and housing have destroyed its populations. In contrast, in Broadland and in eastern Suffolk, it is at least as common as in the nineteenth century and there is some evidence that it is increasing. In the Cambridgeshire Fens, it became extinct as a result of the drainage of most of its sites, but in the last 30 years has spread from stock introduced into Woodwalton Fen. The Hampshire population was not discovered until 1959, but appears to be native. The species is probably favoured by regular (but infrequent) winter cutting of reeds.

S. palustris extends from eastern England and Spain through Denmark, southern Sweden and Serbia to central Russia, Transcaucasia and north-eastern Anatolia. The sub-continental nature of its range is shown by its absence from the oceanic, Mediterranean and Arctic extremes of Europe.


J. O. Mountford

PLANTATT - Attributes of British and Irish plants. (.zip 1455KB) This dataset was compiled and published in 2004, and last updated in November 2008. Download includes an Excel spreadsheet of the attributes, and a PDF explaining the background and nomenclature. Note that the PDF version is the booklet as published, whereas the Excel spreadsheet incorporates subsequent corrections. A hardcopy can be purchased from the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology.

Atlas text references

Atlas (297c)
Atlas of north European vascular plants north of the Tropic of Cancer. 3 vols,
Hultén, E., and Fries M.
, Königstein, (1986)

Vergleichende Chorologie der zentraleuropäischen Flora. Volume 3. 2 vols,
Meusel, H., and Jäger E. J.
, Jena, (1992)

Scarce plants in Britain,
Stewart, A., Pearman D. A., and Preston C. D.
, Peterborough, (1994)