Coming out of the woodwork ….

Purple Toothwort (Lathraea clandestina) is like something conjured from a science fiction film, but it is real and it is breaking out of the ground right now. Just look at the clusters of little hooded figures with their sinister overhanging suckers or lanterns! Fortunately they are only a few centimeters high and are immobile.


Purple toothwort (Lathraea clandestina)

Toothworts are parasitic though, so they maybe deserve that slight air of menace.

They belong to the Broomrape or Orobanchaceae family and are native to middle and southern Europe. The first photo was actually taken last year and shows the flowers in full bloom, whereas the following picture was taken just a couple of days ago at the botanical gardens in Cambridge.


Purple Toothwort breaking out all over the ground

At the Botanics the toothwort is parasitic on the roots of the willows around the central lake. It is often found growing on the roots of either alder, poplar or willow, but it will use a number of other ornamental trees. The seed capsules produced are explosive, but sadly I have not been around to see this happen.

Apparently it is becoming somewhat popular as a garden plant, but if you don’t fancy that, then botanical or municipal gardens are your best bet to see it.


The science section on the Kew Gardens website has some interesting information about the plant, including the fact that the flowers are pollinated by bumblebees and also that the  chemistry of the nectar is unusual. It is highly alkaline, with a taste of ammonia. This might be a defence mechanism that has evolved to deter birds or ants, which could take the nectar without pollinating the flowers.

Wikipedia adds a story that in Arduaine Garden in Argyll cats are often seen to roll in the flowers and even to eat them.



Meanwhile, if you decide to try to grow your own from seed, you may have to be very patient as it can take up to 10 years to the first flowering!


About Frogend_dweller

Living in the damp middle of nowhere
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12 Responses to Coming out of the woodwork ….

  1. It is a bizarre thing….only small bits with us this year as opposed to last year!

  2. Julie says:

    Interesting post Allison and a plant I do not think I’ve ever seen before, thanks for link to Kew too, what a fascinating plant this is!

    • Most of the year you wouldn’t know that it was there of course! Luckily we had it pointed out to us by our lecturer when I was doing the RHS Horticultural course a few years ago.

  3. Chloris says:

    Gorgeous isn’ t it? I have never seen it for sale although I have seen it in a friend’ s garden and coveted it.

  4. Eliza Waters says:

    What an interesting plant, I’ve never seen the likes of this before! Thanks for sharing it, Allison. 🙂

  5. Christina says:

    Does it do any harm to the trees on which it grows? I’ve never seen it before.

    • Nothing I have read about it suggests causes real harm, although obviously it is hijacking resources. I suppose the tree root system is so much larger it is largely irrelevant.

  6. Very interesting. Plants have so many tricks up their sleeves.

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