Mystery plant!

This plant is all over the Portland sidewalks but I can’t find any information on what it is. No one I know can figure it out either. It has no obvious flowers (yet?) and no discernible aroma. It starts out with basal leaves and then sends up a round purplish stem with leaves branching off of it. It grows to about 24” high. It seems to like direct sunlight and rocky, sandy soil.

Mugshot # 1

Mugshot # 2

Do you have any clues on what it may be? Curious minds want to know!

19 thoughts on “Mystery plant!

  1. Just identified my first mystery plant. Took a little while to find out what it was but I have figured it out and I’m sitting on a virtual farmer’s field of……… garlic mustard. Already made a great batch of pesto and can’t wait to eat more. And it’s all free–WHOPPEE!

    just wanted to share,


    • congrads and DOUBLE WHOPPEE !
      have been wanting to cross paths with garlic mustard for some time now.
      did not know about the pesto. thanks for the ‘kick-start’ and wanting to share.

      not everyone knows, but most of the invasive-noxious-weed web-sites, most often governmental sites, have very comprehensive botanical info about plant life cycles, classification id and nomenclature, images, history, distribution, often some ethnobotanical info, and varied manual and chemical eradication methods of course.

      as a forager, have found the work they do, apart from (and including) the chemical-warfare approach, a veritable treasure trove. here is just one of many such web-sites on garlic mustard. (

      in the once and future isles of califia, at the foot of the mount shasta volcano,
      the local u.s. national forest service center has a great native plant nursery, a demonstration garden and a one-day-a-week- volunteer program. the folks in-charge, all women, are extremely knowledgeable and helpful. we do have our differences; and every now and then we will mentally-arm-wrestle over this and that. but we are ‘all ‘plant-people’ and share a very common deep love affair with plants; if not all of them, all of the time, everywhere. a local ‘folk-ditty’ goes something like this: “a rose bush in a field of alfalfa is a ‘weed’. and…alfalfa…in the middle of a rose garden is a ‘weed’.”———“and the times, they are a’changing.”

      thanks jed, (and anyone else out there).
      just wanted to share.


  2. I think Matt was right from the start. My votes are for Mugshot #1 Lactuca muralis and Mugshot #2 Sisymbrium officinale.

  3. CopperWeaver, I checked today and the fluid in the stem is clear (not a milky white latex). It smelled kind of mustard-like.

    Matt, the buds have just begun blooming with clusters of teeny tiny yellow flowers. They were so small that I couldn’t be sure of the petal count. I see the strong resemblance to wall lettuce but the habitat is different. Wall lettuce apparently grows in shady, moist soil and this one grows in bright sunlight in poor soil, disturbed areas.

    Brian, the mustard smell I mentioned left me inclined to taste it this morning when I looked at the fluid in the stem but then I hesitated considering that you named it Burning Don’t Eat Me! Haha great name.

    Emily Porter said she thinks it’s a mustard as well. That is currently my best guest.

    M Lerner, thanks for your thoughts. I looked into the Ivy family and it appears that it’s characterized by either creeping over the ground or climbing up walls. With it’s tall stem, this plant doesn’t seem to fit.

    • Wild Girl, I think that your mugshots here are of two different genus’ of plants, both of them growing here in my yard in Seattle. I don’t know what they either are but mugshot number two could be the mustard that you and Emily think it is. My mugshot number one isn’t blooming yet but if I remember correctly it is an Asteraceae and has a lot larger flowers than #2 does. I would go to the plant in mugshot number one and check to see what color its latex is and if it is like mine here, it will be very milky white. That is the one that I think is a lettuce, whose latin genus of Lactuca is named after lactus – milk. Some other distinguishing characteristics are; the stems of #1 are hollow and soft, seemingly weak while #2 is solid and very strong.

    • becky, if it kind of smells like a mustard, but does not TASTE like a mustard, well then…some one may have to taste it or we can wait for the characteristic mustard seed pods.

    • becky, another observation: “clusters of teeny tiny…flowers…so small that I couldn’t be sure of the petal count” does not describe typical 4 petaled mustard flowers; but does describe wild lettuce seeds;but “… clear liquid…” does not describe wild lettuce. and if more than 5 petals, it is not mycelis muralis.etc.. even without a live sample, still do believe it is a species of genus sonchus; most likely a variety of oleraceus.

      here is a link to a ‘new-age-y’ website (
      which describes some of ‘s.o.’ current medicinal uses which correspond to some of the ‘1,000 year old’ ethnobotanical uses of ‘puha’ by the new zealand moari as mentioned by alisa in her blog.
      whether it is a sonchus or not, am finding your mystery plant blog entry and the research it trigger for me most serendipitous and ‘enlightening’ and very practitional, because i am extremely fond of another particular unidentified variety of sonchus oleraceus. thanks again.

  4. my first thought about this foliage was that it came from the large Solanaceae family. If you could pick then photograph a mature leaf and young one on a sidewalk or sheet of paper, it would be easier to see the characteristics of the foliage. I’m not sure why I am curious, but I want to know if there is milky white fluid in the stems…. I love a good mystery. I hope someone figures it out.

  5. Mustard characteristics? My best guess… I tasted leaves from a plant that looked very similar and I named it “burning don’t eat me” for reasons easily guessed. But that aside, I’d still wager mustard type…..

  6. I think the shape of the leaf is more suggestive of some variety of ivy. Matt’s suggestion of wall lettuce is a good one but, if you compare it closely, the leaf structure is a bit different than the images I found on the web.

    In addition to the shape of the leaf, the base of the steam also has a woody appearance, another possible clue for something in the ivy family.

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