An unassuming gathering of leaves, residing on the forest floor.
Plants can be found gathered together in small patches. Widespread but never in enormous populations. Each plant will live for several years, only producing one basal leaf each season. Then, as the White Lettuce reaches maturity, the plant will erupt to life in its last year (most commonly its seventh year) and produce a multitude of leaves and an elaborate flowering stem. The resulting plant looks nothing like the humble gatherings of leaves left behind among the leaf litter.
As you can see from the pictures, the leaf shape is quite variable. Besides its characteristically variable leaf shapes, the deeply lobed margins with 'teeth', the way that the veins run into the lobes, the slightly rubbery leaf surface and the distinctive 'lettuce-y' flavor make this plant easy to pick out.
Due consideration for its life cycle is essential. Over harvesting of this species would be easy. Samuel Thayer considers this plant to be a “trailside nibble” rather than something to bring to the dinner table. We harvest only a few leaves from each patch which means that if we want to collect enough for a salad, we have to do a lot of walking! Thankfully the plant is very rich in flavor - just like a good strong lettuce or sow thistle - so not much is needed to bring you satiety.