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.
Whilst urban developments have caused a decline in S. palustris in the Thames Valley and in Kent there is some evidence of an increase in Broadland and E. Suffolk. It became extinct in Cambridgeshire through drainage long before 1930, but has spread from a colony introduced to Woodwalton Fen (Hunts.). The Hampshire population, though first found in 1959, appears to be native. The Yorkshire plants are thought to have been introduced with Salix from East Anglia.
Eurosiberian Temperate element.
Height (cm): 250
Perennation - primary
Perennation - secondary
Life Form - primary
Life Form - secondary
Clonality - primary
Clonality - secondary
Comment on Clonality
Scarce Atlas Account
Sonchus palustris L.
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.