Lettuce Varieties: Getting to Know Your Options

a mix of varieties of lettuce growing

By Erin Marissa Russell

Trying to decide which variety of lettuce to plant in your garden next? Well, buckle up, because there are literally more than a thousand separate kinds of lettuce out there to try. Even if you grew a different type of lettuce every season for the rest of your life, you’d never run out of options. 

One of the joys of growing lettuce is finding new varieties to test in your own backyard, learning how well each one performs in your garden and which you like the taste of best in salads, on sandwiches, shredded into tacos, tucked around lettuce wraps—you get the idea. The sheer abundance and range of the choices on the market is so staggering, the search can wear you out before you’re ready to make a decision. But there’s no need to panic. That’s why we’ve curated this list of lettuce varieties we recommend choosing from—just to make things easier on you by narrowing the field a bit. 

Defining Lettuce Types

The first thing a gardener needs to know before they go shopping for lettuce seeds or starter plants is how the varieties are categorized. There are five main types of lettuces out there, and each category has its own unique appeal. Some types of lettuce tend to prosper under certain conditions, while others have a particular flavor or texture they’re known for. Here’s the terminology you should be familiar with before you dive into all the options there are to choose from.

butterhead lettuce

Butterhead Lettuce

Butterhead lettuces are typified by the Boston and Bibb varieties, known for their tender, ruffled leaves. The butterhead lettuces take longer to mature than loose leaf varieties, but gardeners love them for their succulent, delicious flavor. Butterheads are a favorite to top a sandwich or fold around savory meat as the “wrap” of a lettuce wrap.

Lettuces in the butterhead category tend to have leaves that get paler toward the center or are tinged with contrasting red or burgundy. Durability is not their strong suit, and they require gentle handling to prevent damage and bruising of their delicate leaves. Butterheads tend to develop naturally blanched hearts that are considered a delicacy.

Crisphead Lettuce

Crisphead lettuces are heavy and solid, with leaves textured by the crunch of raised, juicy veins and midribs. They’re traditional on top of burgers or served ice cold, sprinkled with bacon and blue cheese dressing as a wedge salad (for which no other type of lettuce will do). The quintessential crisphead lettuce is iceberg, and it’s the classic that defines the category.

These varieties are favorites with gardeners who need to transport their crop to a farmer’s market or want a sturdy lettuce that will hold up well in storage. The lettuce most popular with American consumers (and therefore the ones you’ll see most commonly at the grocery store) are crispheads. 

Gardeners in warm regions may wish to select other versions or feast early in the season, as crispheads are not ready to harvest until later in the year than other varieties. Especially when gardeners plant them early in spring, crispheads tend to be more likely than other types of lettuces to bolt. 

Loose Leaf Lettuce

Unlike other lettuce categories, which all mature into a head of some shape and level of density, loose leaf lettuces don’t coalesce into solid spheres. Loose leaf lettuces are bunched into relaxed rosettes, with leaves clustered toward the center to climb vertically up a central stalk. When it comes to taste, leaf lettuces tend to be mild, tender, and sweet.

Loose leaf varieties can be some of the prettiest lettuces in the garden, coming in a palette of tones from the standard green all the way through deep pomegranate reds and shades of wine-purple. Gardeners get to choose between shapes that range from loosely gathered ruffles to tightly crimped frills trimming plate-sized leaves.

Romaine Lettuce

Many people are most familiar with Romaine lettuces (also called cos varieties) from their starring role in the Caesar salad. Unlike the loose leaf types, which do not form a head, and the round form of crisphead, summer crisp, and butterhead types, Romaine lettuces stand upright, forming a tower-like shape. 

These varieties are prized for firm, delicate leaves with an extremely crisp and prominent center rib that adds significant crunch. The result is a contrast in texture between the rib and the surrounding leaf that makes Romaine an excellent choice for salads. Romaines also tend to have a long shelf life when stored in the refrigerator, staying green and fresh longer than lots of the other, more delicate lettuces. 

Summer Crisp Lettuce

The summer crisp lettuces are sometimes referred to as Batavia or Batavian lettuces or French crisp lettuces. Unlike most lettuces out there, summer crisp types really prosper in the heat of summer. They don’t go to seed when the mercury is climbing, and they stay sweet regardless of how sweltering the summer gets. These qualities make summer crisps smart choices for gardeners who’ve struggled with their lettuce bolting early in the season as well as those in particularly warm regions. Some summer crisp varieties even stand up to cold weather as well as they do the heat. 

In shape, the summer crisp varieties are something of a happy medium between the open ruffles of leaf lettuces and the dense spheres of crispheads. Summer crisps start out with a looser form, allowing you to harvest them like leaf lettuce when they’re growing into maturity. As time goes on and harvest approaches, a summer crisp lettuce will gather itself into a compact globe you harvest all at once. These lettuces mature around the 45-day mark, but you can leave them in the garden for much longer to keep growing if you prefer.

Be advised that as hybrid varieties, summer crisps aren’t going to give you the option of saving seeds to raise a next generation that’s true to type. Many gardeners love summer crisps not only for their heat tolerance and the reduced likelihood of bolting but because they also tend to bypass tipburn and rot diseases. 

Favorite Lettuce Varieties for Home Gardens By Type


Butterhead Lettuce Varieties

Bibb: Bibb and Boston are the most commonly grown butterhead styles, and of the two, Bibb is smaller and is often grown as a baby lettuce. The Bibb varieties offer early harvests and are known for their sweet flavor and succulent hearts that blanch naturally.

Buttercrunch: Cornell University developed this extremely popular Bibb variety. Six-inch fan-shaped heads consist of dark green leaves that are yellow once blanched. 28 days for baby lettuce; 46 days for full size.

Cegolaine: An attractive derivative of Little Gem. Very slow to bolt with somewhat Savoyed leaves that form solid heads known for uniform size and shape. Highly resistant to downy mildew types EU 16–27, EU 30–32 and US 5–9; Nasonovia ribisnigri and lettuce root aphids; intermediate resistance to lettuce mosaic virus. 50 days to maturity.

Little Gem: Cultivated from a French variety for years due to sweet taste and creamy texture. Miniature heads with dense hearts that blanch quickly. 40 days to maturity.

Rosaine: Very similar to Cegolaine with the exception of its deep red color. Very low risk of bolting. Highly resistant to downy mildew types EU 16–26, EU 31, EU 32, and US 5–9 as well as Nasonovia ribisnigri and lettuce root aphids. 52 days to maturity.

Boston: Unlike Bibb varieties, Boston lettuces are generally grown to full maturity and are known for producing large heads of soft, pale green leaves. Like Bibb, the delicacy of these varieties is the naturally blanched heart.

Nancy: Leaves are more heavy and crisper than other Boston varieties. Intermediate resistance to lettuce mosaic virus; unlikely to fall victim to bottom rot. 52 days to maturity.

Red Cross: Large heads with bright red leaves that fade to green at the heart. Can be grown in spring, summer, or fall. Highly resistant to downy mildew types EU 16, 19, 21, 23. 48 days to maturity.

Rex: A favorite for the hydroponic garden, but also performs well as a spring or summer crop in the greenhouse. Not normally cultivated in the outdoor garden. Highly resistant to downy mildew types EU 17-18, 22, 24-25, 29-30, 33–35, and US 5–9. 50 days to maturity.

Skyphos: Two-toned green leaves with red edges. Best heading habit of red-leaf butterhead varieties. High resistance to downy mildew races EU 16–26, EU 32, US 5–9, and Nasonovia ribisnigri aphid. Intermediate resistance to lettuce mosaic virus. 47 days to maturity.

Esmerelda: Firm, uniform heads of frilly pale green leaves that are slow to bolt. Tolerates heat well; resistant to tip burn, downy mildew, and lettuce mosaic virus. 50 days to maturity.

Galisse: Prized for its beautiful, densely ruffled chartreuse leaves.Very unlikely to bolt early, with the benefit of a long harvest period for a variety of head sizes. Tolerates heat well; resists most downy mildew types. 30 days for baby lettuce; 55 days for full size.

Harmony: Heavy, uniform heads packed with glossy, lightly folded leaves. Intermediate resistance to tipburn, bolting, and downy mildew types I, IIA, IIB, III, IV, and V. 68 days to maturity.


Crisphead Lettuce Varieties

Ballade: Iceberg variety cultivated in Thailand specifically for heat resistance. 80 days to maturity.

Crispino: Medium heads unlikely to produce the twisted leaves that occur in some icebergs. Adapts well to heat or humidity; mild flavor and juicy texture. 57 days to maturity.

Great Lakes: Heirloom variety with edges that look as if they were cut with pinking shears. Plant early to reduce risk of bolting. 70 days to maturity.

Ithaca: Buttery-tasting iceberg native to New York that tolerates heat well without growing bitter. Resistant to brown rib and tip burn. Unlikely to bolt early. 65 days to maturity.

Raider: Large, nicely shaped heads with smooth ribs surrounded by dark green foliage. Tolerates heat well; slow to bolt. 52 days to maturity.

Salinas: Known for large yield of medium heads; durable for shipping and often a commercial variety. Resists bolting, tip burn, and lettuce mosaic virus; tolerant of heat and cold. 75 days to maturity.

Sun Devil: High yields of uniform iceberg-type heads that measure six to 12 inches. Very resistant to hot weather; recommended for arid regions. 60 days to maturity.


Loose Leaf Lettuce Varieties

Black-Seeded Simpson: Heirloom variety with more than 150 years of history. Curly, delicate and sweet leaves. Performs well in a range of climates. Heat tolerant, slow to bolt. 28 days for baby lettuce; 46 days for full size. 

Galactic: Forms compact heads of deep green leaves; often part of spring mixes, rarely grown to full size. Resists downy mildew types I to VI. 30 days for baby lettuce.

Grand Rapids: Fast-growing lettuce with beautifully ruffled edges is slow to bolt and tolerant of tipburn. Adaptable to cultivation in cold frames, greenhouses, or the outdoor garden. 50 days to harvest.

Lolla Rossa/Lolla Rosso: Italian variety with intensely frilled two-tone leaves. Tolerates both heat and cold. 50 days to maturity.

Red Sails: Very pretty two-toned leaves, both ruffled and fringed. The slowest of red leaf lettuces to bolt. 27 days for baby lettuce; 55 days for full size. 


Romaine Lettuce Varieties

Cimarron Red: Tall heads with unique deep red edging and buttery yellow hearts. In frost-free zones or those with little frost, can be overwintered. 55 days to maturity. 

Coastal Star: Sweet tasting, full-size Romaine can be sold as head or heart. Intermediate resistance to corky root. 57 days to maturity.

Green Towers: Attractive heads produce uniformly and grow tall. Tolerant of corky root. 60 days to maturity.

Jericho: Blonde Romaine appropriate for baby or standard growing. Grows quickly; tolerates tipburn and hot weather. 29 days to baby lettuce; 57 days for full size.

Marshall: Dark wine-colored leaves with striking pink veins. Smooth, crisp leaves without bitterness. 67 days to maturity.

Salinas: Favorite of commercial growers for high yields and durability in transport. Resists bolting, tip burn, and lettuce mosaic virus. 75 days to maturity.


Summer Crisp Lettuce Varieties

Cherokee: Deepest red of the summer crisp varieties; similar to Magenta other than darker color and less sweetness. Slow to bolt, tolerates bottom rot, very tolerant of heat. Highly resistant of downy mildew types EU 16, 21, 23, 32, and US 5–6. 48 days to maturity.

Concept: Open growth habit with meaty, loosely ruffled leaves that resemble both loose leaf and Romaine varieties. Vase shape is unique among lettuces; prized for excellent flavor. 51 days to maturity. 

Ice Queen (Reine des Glaces): Extremely jagged edges give leaves a unique appearance. Tolerates frost as well as heat and is slow to bolt. Sometimes classified as iceberg. 62 days to maturity, or can be picked early as a baby lettuce. 

Magenta: Shiny two-tone leaves are lightly folded and surround a crisp green heart. Intermediate resistance to lettuce mosaic virus; high resistance to downy mildew types  EU 16, 21, 23, and 32. Tolerates bolting, tip burn, and bottom rot. 48 days to maturity.

Muir: Really a Batavian, but forms dense heads that can be picked early as miniature or left to grow to full size. Tender leaves known for excellent flavor. A favorite in hydroponic gardens. Highly resistant to downy mildew types EU 16–26, EU 28, EU 32, and  US 1–9, Nasonovia nibisnigri aphid, and tomato bushy stunt virus (lettuce dieback complex); intermediate resistance of lettuce mosaic virus. 50 days to maturity.


We’ve given you a hefty list of lettuce varieties, but it’s nowhere near the more than 1,000 varieties you’ll find in seed catalogs to sift through. Now that we’ve given you the rundown of the butterhead, crisphead, loose leaf, Romaine, and summercrisp categories and recommended the best lettuces to choose from in each type, you’re ready to make your shopping list for next season. In no time, you’ll be harvesting the lettuces you’ve chosen and preparing a gourmet salad from your own garden.

Learn More About Lettuce Varieties

https://www.gardeningknowhow.com/edible/vegetables/lettuce/growing-summer-crisp-lettuce.htm

http://www.missouribotanicalgarden.org/PlantFinder/PlantFinderDetails.aspx?kempercode=a679

https://plants.ces.ncsu.edu/plants/lactuca-sativa/

https://web.extension.illinois.edu/veggies/lettuce.cfm

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