Parasitic plants make up around 1% of all plant species. Many, like these meadow plants, are partial- or hemi-parasites; this means they still photosynthesise to make sugar, but tap into the roots of their host to take water and nutrients. Essentially, they are piggy-backing on the investment their hosts have made in growing an extensive root system. The hemi-parasites can grow without a host but, in low-fertility soils where nutrients are harder to find, they will grow more vigorously with one.

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Look out for the following parasitical plants on your spring wanders.


A field guide to parasitic plants in UK grassland

Yellow rattle (Rhinanthus minor)

Close up of yellow rattle flowers

Rhinanthus Minor. Yellow Rattle. Cockscomb/Credit: Getty

Flowers from May to August in grasslands throughout the UK and has distinctive seed pouches that rattle when dry.

Red bartsia (Odontites vernus)

Red Bartsia (Odontites vernus subsp. serotinus / Odontites vulgaris / Odentites verna / Euphrasia odontites) in flower. /Credit:Getty
Red Bartsia in flower./Credit:Getty

Slender purple-tinted flower spikes appear from June to September in rough grassy places throughout the UK.

Yellow bartsia (Parentucellia viscosa)

Yellow bartsia spike with several three-petalled flowers
Yellow bartsia is also known as yellow glandweed. It is native to Europe./Credit: Getty

Produces sticky yellow flower-spikes (below) in grassy heaths and verges from June to October in the west of the UK.

Traditional organic hay meadow with pyramid orchid, Gloucestershire

Lousewort (Pedicularis sylvatica)

Common Lousewort (Pedicularis sylvatica), Connemara, County Galway, Republic of Ireland, Europe

Produces low-growing two-lipped pink flowers from April to July on damp heaths and rough grassland throughout most of the UK.

Common eyebright (Euphrasia nemorosa)

A white, blue and yellow flowered hemi-parasitic plant in the broomrape family (Orobanchaceae)./Credit:Getty
Beautifully delicate, common eyebright has white, blue and yellow flowers and is a hemi-parasitic plant in the broomrape family./Credit:Getty

Grows in grasslands throughout the UK, and the tiny dark-veined flowers with a yellow blotch appear from May to September.

Marsh lousewort (Pedicularis palustris)

Marsh lousewort with dark green leaves resembling a miniature fern and delicate pink-purple flowers
Marsh Lousewort flowering in a dewy meadow./Credit: Getty

Similar to lousewort but prefers wetter grassland, flowering between May and September in the north and west of the UK.

Common cow-wheat (Melampyrum pratense)

Close up of cow wheat which has yellow bell shaped flowers all along one side of a stalk
Macro shot of common cow wheat flowers in bloom./Credit: Getty
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Grows on heaths and in scrubby grassland and woods across the UK, with tubular yellow flowers (below) appearing from May through to September.

Authors

Amanda Tuke is a south-London-based nature writer and is the current Great North Wood nature-writer-in-residence. Read her blog at suburbanwild.wordpress.com

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