Images: ©Jouko Lehmuskallio

Scottish Asphodel

Tofieldia pusilla

  • Name also: Scotch-asphodel, Scotch False Asphodel (USA)
  • Family: Bunchflower Family – Tofieldiaceae
    (formerly Melanthiaceae)
  • Growing form: Perennial herb. Rootstock short, creeping.
  • Height: 8–20 cm (3.2–8 in.).
  • Flower: Regular (actinomorphic). Tepals 6 in 2 similar whorls, yellowish white–greenish. Stamens 6. Pistil partly fused, styles 3. Inflorescence a 5–20 mm (0.2–0.8 in.) long, dense, spike-like terminal raceme. Subtending bracts 3-lobed, yellowish white.
  • Leaves: Rosette, occasionally with 1–2 small stem leaves, stalkless. Blade sword-shaped, 2–3 mm broad, rigid, with entire margins, 3–7-veined.
  • Fruit: Quite elliptic, erect, greyish, approx. 3 mm long capsule comprised of 3 follicle-like parts
  • Habitat: Fens, minerotrophic bog, springs, stream and river banks, usually in peat. Also in damp, mossy rocks and nutritious fell heaths.
  • Flowering time: June-August.

Scottish asphodel’s leaves grow to a maximum of 5 cm (2 in.) long and its flowering stem is around 10 cm (4 in.). Its maximum length is 20 cm (8 in.)when the capsule is already on the stem: after flowering the scape grows, dries and remains in that state throughout the winter. Its specific name pusilla means ’small’ in Latin, and characterises the species well.

Scottish asphodel is a Holarctic plant, meaning that it grows in the northern hemisphere in Europe, Asia and North America. In Finland it is most abundant in Lapland. In central parts of the country it only grows in a few places because the moderately nutritious bogs that it has adapted to have been drained into fields. Scottish asphodel has been used in the past to identify peatland under the soil that that could be drained to make good fields. It likes calciferous soil, but remains small, often in the shade of other larger plants, in the most nutritious bogs. In suitable places it also thrives in dryish fell heaths and damp rock surfaces.

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