Common Cow-wheat

©Philip Precey

Common cow-wheat

Scientific name: Melampyrum pratense
Common cow-wheat is a delicate annual that brightens up the edges of acid woodland and heaths with deep golden flowers in the summer.

Species information

Statistics

Height: 20-50cm

Conservation status

Common.

When to see

May to September

About

Common cow-wheat is an annual of woodland edges, heaths and upland moors that has deep golden flowers from May to September. It is a hemi-parasitic plant, meaning that it relies on obtaining some of its nutrients from the roots of nearby plants. The nectar of Common Cow-wheat can only be reached by insects that have a long proboscis, especially bees. If the flower is not pollinated, it will pollinate itself. It is the larval foodplant of the rare Heath Fritillary butterfly.

How to identify

The leaves of Common cow-wheat are narrow and pointed. It has yellow flowers that grow in pairs up the square stem, both facing the same direction; the first pair to emerge are those at the top of the stem.

Distribution

Widespread, but scarcer in the east.

Did you know?

Common cow-wheat has a mutually beneficial relationship with the Wood Ant. The flowers produce a sugary liquid from tiny glands below the petals that the ants are attracted to and feed on. The seeds of the plant are very similar in appearance to the cocoons of the ant and are transported back to the nest where they can grow.

How people can help

The Wildlife Trusts manage many woodland nature reserves sympathetically for the benefit of all kinds of wildlife. A mix of coppicing, scrub-cutting, ride maintenance and non-intervention all help woodland wildlife to thrive. You can help too: volunteer for your local Wildlife Trust and you could be involved in everything from traditional forest crafts to surveying for woodland plants.