What Type Should You Grow: Lettuce
Updated: Jul 30
The Green Everyone Knows About: The Lettuce (Lactuca sativa)
Most people have what you would call a love hate relationship with lettuce. It has this sad connotation that lettuce is boring and bland. Well maybe the grocery store kind does, but I'm here to tell you that just ain't the truth. There are plenty of lettuce out there that taste fantastic from light and crisp to bold and spicy that it would really blow your mind. Okay, maybe not blow your mind but hopefully give you a better appreciation for this undervalued crop.
A Little Bit About Lettuce
To start us off, Lettuce belongs to the Compositae family — in simpler terms: it belongs to the Sunflower or Daisy family. Yes I know what you are thinking, but those are flowers. Well in fact lettuce can grow flowers of their own we just never let it get that far!
FUN FACT: Lactuca is more commonly known as Lettuce and sativa means "edible"
It belongs to the genus Lactuca - now wait before I lose you, it has a cool meaning. The name is derived from Latin, lac, and means "having milky sap" which appears when it is cut. It is most predominantly after flowering but can still be noticeable even without. Cool right? I bet you are trying to picture that right now.
Where did it come from? Lettuce is an annual plant that is native to the Mediterranean area, meaning it's a cool season crop. It was said that cultivation may have started as early as 4500 BC!
Before we get started on planting this very easy crop, let's figure out a little bit more about what kind you want to plant. Yes that's right lettuce comes in different types!
5 Different Types of Lettuce
Better known as Iceberg Lettuce, is a rounded compact lettuce with overlapping leaves. Commonly used in salads and sandwiches. They are grown in more cool northern climates, as they tend to bolt in the summer. They need a long cool season to create those beautiful dense heads. The inside leaves are sweeter with a pale colour, while the outside are greener. Usually need 50-75 days to reach maturity: seeds indoors in flats and transplant while the temperature is still cool in the early spring or fall.
Varieties: Cardinale, Anuenue, Dillon, Jester, Crispino, Saladin, Yucaipa, Tombstone, Ice Queen
Also known as Cabbage Lettuce, is a distinct round head that form loose leaves around it - unlike the Crisphead with tight overlapping leaves. As the name suggest the leaves are buttery smooth in taste and velvety in texture and can be slightly more tolerant to heat compared to over types of Lettuce. Usually need 55-60 days to reach maturity: so start seed indoors, best to plant it in the early spring or fall.
Varieties: Roxy, Tom Thumb, Buttercrunch, Mirlo, Alkindua, Optima, Pirat, Edox, Barilla, May Queen
Cos or Romaine
It is a tall, thick head with ribbed leaves. The one most predominantly used in the famous Caesar Salad. Leaves are crunchy and slightly sweet, and regarded as one of the most nutritious types of lettuce. Usually need 70-80 days to reach maturity: so start seed indoors, best to plant it in the early spring or fall.
Green Varieties: Parris Island Cos, Freckles, Cimmaron, Coastal Star, Green Towers, Winter Density, Valley Heart, Little Gem, Xanadu
Red Varieties: Rouge d'Hiver, Outrageous, Taboo
Looseleaf or Bunching
As the name suggest, looseleaf type lettuce do not form a compact head like other types - they form tender leaves which grow from a central stalk. The leaves are cultivated when they are young and small, as they tend to be sensitive to excessive heat and light. Usually needs 45-55 days to reach maturity: so start seed indoors, best to plant it in the early spring or fall in a partially shaded area.
Red Leaf Varieties: Dark Lollo Rossa, Red Mist, Vulcan, New Red Fire, Merlot
Green Leaf Varieties: Black Seeded Simpson, Waldmann's, Green Star, Two Star, Tropicana
Red Oak Leaf Varieties: Red Salad Bowl, Red Oak Leaf, Cantarix
Green Oak Leaf Varieties: Sandy, Salad Bowl, Tango, Encino
Also known as Stem Lettuce, Celery Lettuce, Asparagus Lettuce or Chinese Lettuce, is very popular in Asian Cuisine, This vegetable is popular in mainland China and Taiwan - the stem is called wosun or qingsun, when prepared separately the leaves are called youmaical. Celtuce has pale green leaves and a white stem, it can be eaten raw or cooked. Like any other vegetable it can be roasted, grilled, pickled, or stir-fried. Usually needs 30-35 days for the leaves to reach maturity and 30 cm tall for the stem.