Guide to Parasitic Grassland Plants of the UK | BBC Countryfile Magazine

Parasitic plants make up about 1% of all plant species. Many, like these prairie plants, are partial or semi-parasitic; this means they still photosynthesise to make sugar, but tap into their host’s roots for water and nutrients. Essentially, they rely on the investment their hosts have made in developing an extensive root system. Hemi-parasites can grow without a host but, in low fertility soils where nutrients are harder to find, they will grow more vigorously with just one.

Watch out for the following parasitic plants on your spring walks.


A field guide to parasitic plants in UK grassland

Yellow Rattle (Rhinanthus minor)

Rhinanthus minor. Yellow rattle. Cockscomb/Credit: Getty

Blooms from May to August in UK grasslands and has distinctive seed packets that vibrate when dry.

Red Bartsia (Vernus odontitis)

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

Red Bartsia in bloom./Credit: Getty

Slender spikes of purple-tinged flowers appear from June to September in grassy, ​​hilly locations across the UK.

Yellow Bartsia (Parentucellia viscosa)

Yellow bartsia spike with multiple three-petalled flowers

Yellow bartsia is also known as yellow gland. He is originally from Europe./Credit: Getty

Produces sticky yellow flower spikes (below) in heather and grassy borders from June to October in the West of the UK.

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Lousewort (Pedicularis sylvatica)

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

Produces low growing two-lipped pink flowers from April to July on wet moorland and rugged grassland across much of the UK.

Eyebright (Euphrasia nemorosa)

A hemiparasitic plant with white, blue and yellow flowers in the broomrape family (Orobanchaceae)./Credit:Getty

Beautifully delicate, common eyebright has white, blue and yellow flowers and is a semi-parasitic plant in the broomrape family./Credit: Getty

Grows in UK grasslands and the tiny black-veined flowers with a yellow spot appear from May to September.

Lousewort (Lousewort palustris)

Lousewort with dark green leaves resembling a miniature fern and delicate pinkish-purple flowers

Lousewort flowering in a dew covered meadow./Credit: Getty

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

Soft wheat (Melampyrum pratense)

Close up of cow wheat which has yellow bell shaped flowers all along one side of a stem

Macro photo of common cowwheat flowers in bloom./Credit: Getty

Grows on heather and in grassland and scrubby woodland across the UK, with yellow tubular flowers (below) appearing from May to September.

Chris B. Hall