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Small Cow-wheat

Melampyrum sylvaticum

Please keep in mind that it is illegal to uproot a plant without the landowner's consent and care should be taken at all times not to damage wild plants. Wild plants should never be picked for pleasure and some plants are protected by law.
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Plant Profile

Flowering Months:
Orobanchaceae (Broomrape)
Life Cycle:
Maximum Size:
50 centimetres tall
Grassland, hedgerows, riverbanks, riversides, woodland.

Yellow, 1 petal
Annual. Flowers always deep yellow with purple speckles in the centre, in pairs with leaf-like bracts at the bottom, up to 1cm.
Dark brown capsule containing 2 large seeds.
Opposite linear-lanceolate leaves. Unstalked, entire margins and not hairy.
Other Names:
Wood Cow-wheat.
Frequency (UK):
Rarely seen  

Other Information


Melampyrum sylvaticum, also known as cow wheat, is a herbaceous plant in the family Scrophulariaceae. It is native to Europe and Asia, and is found in a variety of habitats, including woodlands, hedgerows, and grasslands. The plant has small, yellow flowers that bloom in the summer, and its leaves are dark green and oblong in shape. Cow wheat is sometimes used as a medicinal plant, and it is also an important food source for some species of insects, particularly bees.


Small cow-wheat, Melampyrum sylvaticum, is a plant species that belongs to the family Orobanchaceae. This plant is native to Europe and is commonly found in meadows, grasslands, and deciduous forests. It is also known by other common names such as woodland cow-wheat and small bitter-vetch.

Small cow-wheat is a perennial herb that typically grows up to 50 cm in height. It has erect stems that are covered in tiny, downy hairs, giving them a soft, velvety appearance. The leaves of this plant are simple, opposite, and elliptical in shape. They have a light green color and are covered in hairs as well.

The most distinctive feature of small cow-wheat are its flowers, which are typically yellow or orange in color and are arranged in spikes at the top of the stems. They bloom from May to June and are a popular source of nectar for pollinators such as bees and butterflies.

Small cow-wheat is a hemiparasitic plant, which means that it relies on other plants for some of its nutrient needs. The roots of this plant attach themselves to the roots of other nearby plants and extract nutrients from them. This is a unique adaptation that allows small cow-wheat to thrive in nutrient-poor soils.

Small cow-wheat is an important plant species for several reasons. Firstly, it is a valuable food source for many wildlife species, including mammals and birds. Secondly, it is a popular ornamental plant and is often used in wildflower meadows and other landscaping projects. Finally, it is considered a threatened species in some countries, such as the United Kingdom, due to habitat loss and other environmental factors.

Small cow-wheat is a fascinating plant species that is not only aesthetically pleasing but also has important ecological and cultural significance. It is a valuable addition to any wildflower meadow, and its presence can enhance the overall biodiversity of an area.

In addition to its ecological importance, small cow-wheat has also been used for medicinal purposes throughout history. The leaves and stems of this plant contain compounds that have been shown to have antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, and pain-relieving properties. In traditional medicine, small cow-wheat was used to treat a variety of ailments, such as respiratory infections, skin conditions, and digestive disorders.

However, it is important to note that small cow-wheat should not be used as a substitute for professional medical care. While the plant may have medicinal properties, more research is needed to fully understand its effects and determine the appropriate doses.

Small cow-wheat is relatively easy to cultivate and can be grown in a variety of soils and conditions. It prefers moist, well-drained soils and partial to full shade, and it is tolerant of both drought and frost. To grow small cow-wheat, simply sow the seeds in the spring or autumn and keep the soil moist. This plant will self-seed readily, and it can become invasive in some areas.

Small cow-wheat is a fascinating plant species that offers a wide range of benefits. It is an important food source for wildlife, a popular ornamental plant, and has potential medicinal properties. Whether you're a gardener, naturalist, or just someone who appreciates the beauty of nature, small cow-wheat is a plant worth learning more about.

It is also worth mentioning that small cow-wheat is a great plant for educational purposes, particularly for children. Its unique hemiparasitic nature and distinctive yellow or orange flowers make it a great conversation starter and can encourage children to learn more about the amazing diversity of the natural world.

For gardeners, small cow-wheat is a great plant to have in the garden not just for its beauty, but also for the ecological benefits it provides. Its flowers are a great source of nectar for pollinators, and it can also help to improve soil health by adding nitrogen and other essential nutrients to the soil.

In conclusion, small cow-wheat is a versatile and valuable plant species that should be appreciated by everyone, from gardeners and naturalists to children and educators. Its beauty, ecological significance, and potential medicinal properties make it a plant worth learning more about and cultivating in your own garden. Whether you're growing it for its ornamental value, its contribution to the ecosystem, or for its potential medicinal properties, small cow-wheat is sure to impress.

Distribution Map

Reproduced by kind permission of the BSBI.

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