Small Cow-Wheat

An Addendum to our Duddon Valley Walk (see previous post)

I was tying my shoelaces and preparing to head back to the car when I noticed a single small plant with paired, opposite long and narrow leaves and highly distinctive egg-yolk flowers, also in pairs. I didn’t recognise it, but it seemed so unusual I felt sure that I would be able to identify it when I got home.

It seems that this is small cow-wheat and that small cow-wheat is quiet rare.

Small cow-wheat is an annual hemiparasitic herb found on ledges, grassy hollows and banks in woodland with a fairly open canopy in northern Britain and Northern Ireland. It also grows in tree-lined ravines, stream valleys, and, occasionally, on sloping lake shores with light tree cover. Most sites are flushed and distinctly humid, and usually are near waterfalls, burns or lochs. At higher altitudes it sometimes occurs on corrie ledges. It has a relatively restricted distribution, and a habitat preference which is vulnerable to changing land management. The species is a European endemic which is most widespread in Scandinavia and through the Alps and Balkans.

Small cow-wheat occurs locally in Scotland, northern England and Northern Ireland, with herbarium records from the last century in Wales (see 3.2). The latest data indicate that this species has only been confirmed from 25 ten km squares, so that it appears to have been lost from 70% of its former range in the British Isles, especially in the lowlands around the margins of its distribution.

In Great Britain small cow-wheat is classified as Nationally Scarce and is protected under Schedule 8 of the Wildlife (Northern Ireland) Order 1985, but receives no special protection elsewhere in the UK.

I found this in the National Archive, it seems to be part of the UK’s Biodiversity Plan.  And this:

Small Cow-wheat (Melampyrum sylvaticum) is a small (5-18 cms high), deep-yellow flowered, annual plant of broadleaved, humid, ravine-type woodlands, where it is semi-parasitic on a wide range of plants. It has large seeds that have poor dispersal ability and are susceptible to predation.

Once widespread in Britain and Ireland (over 200 sites) it is now a very rare plant in Britain, restricted to only 22 sites, 19 of which are in Scotland north of the Highland Boundary fault. A genetic study revealed that there is low genetic diversity both within and between the populations. Small cow-wheat would appear to be very vulnerable to the effects of climate change through climate envelope shifts and habitat loss.

…on a Forestry commission site.

The location is right – tree lined ravine with waterfalls nearby. So did I stumble upon one of the three sites south of the Highland Boundary fault or has the species been reintroduced here?

I’ve also been wondering – is there some authority to whom I should report the fact that I found it?

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Small Cow-Wheat

3 thoughts on “Small Cow-Wheat

  1. qdant says:

    I’ve also been wondering – is there some authority to whom I should report the fact that I found it?
    They’d probably fine you for photographing it without a home office license ! then the following week have the Strimming Oafs in, to tidy up the area !
    just my 2p Danny

  2. I’ve only seen Common Cow Wheat – and even that isn’t all that common – but it’s fascinating to read the ‘Rose Key’ to find the differences.

    It may worthwhile contacting Plantlife to see if they or the county recorder for plants has your location as one of their known sites.

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