Purple toothwort - popular… but not with the poplar

by zoe | 24.03.2014 | flower , plant , purple toothwort , of the week | 0 comments | Rating: 1 votes

Purple toothwort

Purple toothwort

Purple toothwort

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Purple toothwort (lathraea clandestine) is becoming increasingly popular as a garden plant in the UK. But don’t expect it to be universally popular, for it is a parasite.

Purple toothwort (lathraea clandestine) is becoming increasingly popular as a garden plant in the UK. Its striking colour and explosive seed capsules will bring a touch of drama to your garden. But don’t expect it to be universally popular. It will not go down well with:

Alder, poplar and willow – to these trees, the purple toothwort is like a debilitating virus. It saps their energy. It’s parasitic; its roots attach to a number of the roots of a host plant like an alder, poplar or willow tree, and take energy directly from them.

Common toothwort (lathraea squamaria) – this form of toothwort is native to the UK and so was probably not best pleased when this exotic south European outsider was introduced to our shores in the second half of the nineteenth century - especially because our native toothwort is not as colourful as its Euroean counterpart.

People who don’t like secrets – the name lathraea comes from the Greek word lathraios  meaning secret,  due to the fact that toothwort spends much of its lifecycle hidden underground. Being parasitic, the purple toothwort doesn’t even have leaves of its own – and it sometimes takes up to 10 years before it flowers for the first time… so if you have it in your garden, you might not know it yet.

Your neighbours -  nobody likes to be overshadowed (well actually, except purple toothwort, which prefers to grow in semi-shade where the soil doesn’t completely dry out). There’s definitely a risk of jealous neighbours if you grow the dramatic purple toothwort, so watch out for anyone jumping over the fence to take a clump of your plant to transplant (it can also be propagated simply by scattering seeds at the base of a suitable host tree).

Written by zoe

I think that I shall never see A poem lovely as a tree - Joyce Kilmer (1913)

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