Images: ©Jouko Lehmuskallio

Field Cow-wheat

Melampyrum arvense

  • Family: Broomrape Family – Orobanchaceae
    (formerly Figwort Family – Scrophulariaceae)
  • Growing form: Annual herb. Hemiparasite.
  • Height: 15–40 cm (6–16 in.). Stem usually branched.
  • Flower: Corolla zygomorphic, red, fused, bilabiate, long-tubed, approx. 20 mm (0.8 in.) long. Tube usually curved. Upper lip hooded, with flattened sides; lower lip 3-lobed, yellow. Calyx fused, 4-lobed, lobes approx. 10 mm (0.4 in.) long. Stamens 4. Gynoecium composed of 2 fused carpels. Approx. 5–10 cm (2–4 in.) long spiked inflorescence on end of stem and branches.
  • Leaves: Opposite, almost stalkless. Blade linear–narrowly elliptic. Flowers’ subtending bracts red, narrowly ovate, flat, ascending oblique, lower leaves with entire margins, upper leaves usually toothed at base.
  • Fruit: Elliptic, flat capsule.
  • Habitat: Dryish meadows, roadsides, field margins, banks.
  • Flowering time: July–August.
  • Endangerment: Vulnerable, protected in all of Finland.

In common with other cow-wheats, field cow-wheat is a hemiparasite: although it is a chlorophyll plant and can assimilate itself, it also sucks nutrition from neighbouring plants’ roots. Earlier it was a problematic field weed, but it disappeared, apparently due to a change in farming methods. Changes in land use have also led to a decline in other habitats: pasture lands and meadows have become overgrown, been cleared for cultivation or forested. Elsewhere in the Nordic countries stands have collapsed. The species’ last habitats in Finland are in the south-west archipelago on Nauvo and the Åland Islands. Nowadays field cow-wheat can mainly be found in meadows beside villages and roadsides. The best place to see the plant is probably in Seili, around the archipelago research centre. Field cow-wheat grows casually in different parts of southern Finland and on the shore of southern parts of the Gulf of Finland.

Field cow-wheat grows in the same kind of dryish habitats as its relative crested cow-wheat (M. cristatum). These species can be most easily differentiated by their inflorescence: field cow-wheat’s is 5–10 cm (2–4 in.) long and cylindrical and round when viewed from above, while crested cow-wheat’s is around 3 cm long (1.2 in.) and clearly 4-edged.

Other species from the same genus
Other species from the same family
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