Lettuce (Lactuca sativa) is a leafy vegetable, crucial in most fresh salads. Low on calories and rich in nutrients, they’re commonly seen in wraps, soups, sandwiches, and salads. The composition of nutrients varies, but all kinds of lettuce are usually rich in vitamins A and K.
But what the lettuce plant is? This salad vegetable is an annual plant grown primarily for its leaves. However, some varieties, like the asparagus lettuce, are also grown for their stems.
If you love fresh lettuce in your everyday meals or plan to even grow it at home for a multitude of health benefits, you’ll learn all about this vegetable here. Keep reading, and you’ll start to love this fresh green even more!
In simple terms, lettuce belongs to the Asteraceae family or the daisy family. Daisy, aster, sunflower, artichokes, tarragon, and salsify also belong to the same family.
|Botanical Name||Lactuca Sativa|
|Plant Type||An Annual|
|Size (Fully Grown)||6 – 12 Inches (About 15 – 30 cm) Tall And 2 – 12 Inches (About 5 – 30 cm) Wide|
|Sun Exposure||Full Sun But Also Tolerates Partial Shade|
|Soil Type||Loamy And Fertile Soil That Also Drains Well|
|Soil pH||From 6.0 To 6.5|
|U.S. Hardiness Zones||4, 5, 6, 7, 8, And 9|
|Native Area||Ancient Egypt|
What Are The Five Distinct Lettuce Types?
When it comes to lettuce, you have various varieties to choose from. In addition, they come in a range of different flavors, textures, and colors. With so many options, you can try a unique combination each time you make yourself a salad bowl.
There are five primary classifications, each having its extensive range of varieties.
Crisphead Or Iceberg
Iceberg is undeniably the most famous name in the lettuce world. Even if you haven’t tried all the varieties, you’ll have had iceberg lettuce in your burger, salads, or sandwiches. All crisphead varieties form a tight head of crunchy leaves. Here are some of those excellent varieties:
- Hanson Improved
- Webbs Wonderful
- Crisphead Great Lakes
Butterheads are delicate varieties that get their name from soft, buttery texture and taste. They’re easier to grow than crispheads and can be harvested whole, take off the entire head, or pick the outer leaves. They include:
- Summer Bib
- Emerald Oak
- Four Seasons
- Flashy Butter Oak
- Bronze Mignonette
Romaine Or Cos
Romaine varieties are easy to recognize because they have long, upright leaves in a spoon shape. In addition, the leaves have thick ribs and can be red, bronze, or speckled, other than the classic green. The most popular Romaine lettuce varieties include:
- Nova F3
- Little Ceasar
- Devil’s Tongue
- Brown Golding
- Hyper Red Rumple
- Dark Green Romaine
With their tender texture and mildly sweet flavor, looseleaf lettuces are one of the easiest ones to grow. Their large leaves come in different colors: green, yellow, bronze, red, and burgundy. They include:
- Perilla Red
- Bronze Leaf
- Deer Tongue
- Simpson Elite
- Austrian Greenleaf
- Black Seeded Simpson
Oak Leaf is a special kind of Loose Leaf lettuce with the same mild flavor of looseleaf but with smaller leaves. The best ones include:
- Bronze Guard
Where Did Lettuce Originally Come From?
For centuries, the lettuce we eat today has been around in different forms. Records prove the existence of wild lettuce from nearly 5000 years ago.
The typical lettuce, or Lactuca sativa, has its roots in ancient Egypt, where it was cultivated not for its leaves but the seeds and those seeds were used for extracting oil.
Since its cultivation back in 2700 B.C., Egyptians considered it a sacred plant of Min’s god of reproduction. While the general public used the oil from the seeds for cooking, medicine, and mummification, Min consumed it to enhance sexual stamina. Over the ages, Egyptians bred the wild varieties for bringing out sweeter, softer flavors.
Soon lettuce was passed on to the Greeks. They usually served it before the meals to aid digestion. Later, Romans learned the secrets of lettuce cultivation from the Greeks.
The species was named “Lactuca” by the Romans. Later, the English word “lettuce” replaced it as the common name, while the Roman version remains the botanical name.
According to Wikipedia, Christopher Columbus first brought the plant to America back in the 15th century. However, it was initially only sold close to where it was cultivated, owing to its short lifespan and inefficient transportation and storage facilities.
With the advancement of storage and transportation in the early 20th century, lettuce cultivation saw a marked improvement.
How To Recognize A Lettuce Plant?
Different lettuce varieties have different kinds of roots. Some have taproots, while others have fibrous root systems. The plants grow to about 6 to 12 inches (about 15 to 30 cm) tall, with leaves appearing in a broad range of colors.
Different shapes and textures are available, with some that form compact heads like the iceberg varieties and others with loose ruffled leaves. Unfortunately, the leaves are harvested well before flowering. But, if the plant bolts, you’ll get to see a flowering stalk.
Most lettuce varieties have a taproot system. For the varieties planted in the U.S. and Western Europe, there will be a central taproot that is long and narrow, with small secondary roots extending from the main one. Asian varieties have more extensive roots.
Next, you’ll find the stem. This is the part of the lettuce that’s directly above the ground and holds the leaves together. It’s thick and lighter in color than the leaves. When lettuce is harvested, it’s generally cut from the stem.
Leaves are what we’re all after when we grow lettuce. The plant’s edible parts differ in texture, color, size, and taste for different lettuce varieties. They range from green to red and purple, but you can also find variegated varieties. Yellow and gold leaves are also available. The leaves we collect are usually consumed fresh in salads, sandwiches, and burgers.
If everything goes well, you won’t see any flowering because we harvest the plant well before it flowers. However, a long flowering stalk shoots up if the lettuce bolts and produces yellow blooms at the tip. The flowers open in the morning and close at night.
But, we don’t want the plant to flower because it isn’t good for the leaves. When the plant starts concentrating its energies on the blooms, the leaves lose their size and sweet flavor.
In What Conditions Does Lettuce Grow Best In?
Lettuce is a cool-season crop that grows well in zones 4 to 9, as long it’s planted at the right time. Learn when to plant it and the kind of conditions that suit the crop best to enjoy a fresh, flavorful harvest.
In What Temperature Does Lettuce Grow Best In?
Lettuce grows well in cooler temperatures, and they’re also tolerant to light frost. But even though it tolerates a light frost, the optimal growing temperatures still range from 60 to 65°F (about 15,5 to 18°C).
Remember, though, that when the temperatures stay above 80°F (about 26°C) for several days, the plant bolts and goes to seed. Since the plants mature quickly, which takes about 45 to 50 days, you can time many plantings for a continued harvest.
The Best Growing Conditions For Lettuce
Lettuce grows best in spring and fall in most growing zones. Most growers plant the crop two weeks before the last frost of spring, as soon as the soil is workable. The fall crop is planted about eight weeks before the first frost of the fall.
The vegetable prefers a sunny spot with loose, well-draining soil. Till the land, and amend it with composted organic matter well before planting the seeds.
Also, keep the soil consistently moist, especially during warmer temperatures, to achieve tender, sweet leaves. By the way, you can grow spinach near lettuce because it’s a great companion plant for lettuce.
Is It Safe To Eat / Consume Lettuce?
Are these healthy greens safe for everyone? Learn more about the risks of eating lettuce, especially if you have a medical condition, allergies, or are pregnant. Are there any special considerations pet owners should know? Here’s what you need to know:
Pregnant And Breastfeeding Women
Lettuce is usually safe for pregnant and breastfeeding women. It’s beneficial and prevents congenital disabilities, and promotes digestion and sleep in most cases.
However, keep in mind that a particular bacterium, listeria, that hides between the leaf folds is life-threatening to the growing life inside the womb.
Lettuce is safe for children as long as it’s appropriately washed to eliminate contaminants.
People With Allergies
Allergies aren’t as common with lettuce as with other foods, like peanuts, but they are possible. Lettuce allergy usually comes from lipid transfer protein syndrome. People with this allergy are sensitive to all vegetables, nuts, fruits, and cereals containing LTPs.
People With Diabetes
Leafy vegetables like lettuce are an excellent addition to your diet if you have diabetes. And the low glycemic index lettuce has means that your body won’t experience a high rise in blood sugar levels. So, in short, yes, lettuce is a beneficial plant if you have diabetes.
While lettuce is safe for most people, those with certain medical conditions may find it hard to digest. For example, people with IBS or bowel obstructions may have difficulties eating lettuce.
Furthermore, those taking blood-thinning medications, like warfarin, should keep a check on their lettuce consumption since it’s a Vitamin K-rich vegetable. The reason for this? Well, because excessive Vitamin K in your system inhibits the effectiveness of warfarin.
Lettuces are entirely safe for your furry friends. On the other hand, if you’ve been using chemical pesticides or fertilizers on them, it’s best to keep the pets away.