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Purple Toothwort

Lathraea clandestina

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:
10 centimetres tall
Floodplains, hedgerows, riversides, waterside, wetland, woodland.

Purple, 5 petals
The two-lipped, violet-purple flowers are 4 or 5cm in length. Flowers have long stalks.
A long, many-seeded, spherical capsule.
Leaves are absent. A parasitic plant which grows around the bases of trees and shrubs, in particular poplar and willow trees. Mat-forming perennial.
Frequency (UK):

Similar Species

Other Information


Lathraea clandestina, also known as the purple toothwort, is a perennial, parasitic flowering plant in the Orobanchaceae family. It is native to Europe and western Asia and typically grows in woodlands or along streams. Like Lathraea squamaria, it is a root parasite and lacks chlorophyll, and it attaches its roots to the roots of nearby trees and shrubs, absorbing nutrients. The plant produces small, inconspicuous, purplish-brown flowers in late spring or early summer, and has small, scale-like leaves. It is often overlooked as it flowers underground, and is not well known by the general public. It can be propagated by seed, but it's not commonly cultivated as it's difficult to grow in a garden setting and it's not used in horticulture.


Purple Toothwort: A Mysterious Wildflower

Purple Toothwort, also known as Lathraea clandestina, is a unique and fascinating wildflower that is native to Europe, Asia, and North Africa. This mysterious flower is known for its unusual appearance and its parasitic way of life. In this blog, we will take a closer look at what makes the Purple Toothwort so special.

Appearance and Characteristics

The Purple Toothwort is a small plant that grows to about 10-30 cm in height. It is a perennial plant that flowers between March and May. The flower itself is small and purple, giving it its common name. It has a simple, delicate appearance with a single stem and a few leaves that are green and scale-like. The Purple Toothwort is often overlooked because it blends in with the forest floor and is easily mistaken for a weed.

Parasitic Way of Life

One of the most interesting aspects of the Purple Toothwort is its parasitic way of life. This plant does not produce its own food, but instead, it lives off the roots of trees and shrubs. The Purple Toothwort has a long, thin root that penetrates the roots of its host plant and absorbs the nutrients it needs to grow and flower. This type of parasitic relationship is known as myco-heterotrophy and is unique to the Purple Toothwort.

Habitat and Distribution

The Purple Toothwort is found in deciduous forests, especially those with an abundance of beech trees. It is also found in damp, shady places, such as riverbanks and damp meadows. The Purple Toothwort is a widespread species and is found in many countries in Europe, Asia, and North Africa.

Conservation Status

Despite its widespread distribution, the Purple Toothwort is considered to be a species of conservation concern. This is because its habitat is being lost due to deforestation and the conversion of forests into agricultural land. In some countries, the Purple Toothwort is also threatened by the over-collection of wildflowers for the horticultural trade. It is important to protect this species and its habitat to ensure its survival for future generations.

Ecological Importance of Purple Toothwort

The Purple Toothwort plays an important role in the ecosystem as it is a food source for several species of insects, including bees and butterflies. The flowers of the Purple Toothwort provide nectar for these insects, which in turn pollinate the plant. The Purple Toothwort is also an important plant for the survival of certain species of fungi that live in a symbiotic relationship with the plant. These fungi help the Purple Toothwort to absorb nutrients from its host plant, and in return, the plant provides the fungi with food.

Cultural Significance of Purple Toothwort

In some cultures, the Purple Toothwort has been used for medicinal purposes. The plant was traditionally used to treat toothaches, which is where it gets its common name. In some areas, the plant was also used to treat skin conditions and as a laxative. However, it is important to note that the Purple Toothwort contains toxic compounds and should not be consumed or used as a medicine without proper knowledge and guidance.

Cultivation of Purple Toothwort

The Purple Toothwort is not a commonly cultivated plant due to its parasitic way of life. However, it can be grown in the garden if the right conditions are provided. The plant needs a shaded and damp area and a host plant to grow on. If you are interested in growing the Purple Toothwort, it is important to research the appropriate methods and to ensure that the plant is not being collected from the wild.

In conclusion, the Purple Toothwort is a unique and fascinating plant that is worth learning about. With its delicate appearance, parasitic way of life, and ecological importance, it is a valuable addition to any wildflower collection. By understanding and appreciating this special plant, we can help to protect it for future generations.

The Mysterious Reproduction of Purple Toothwort

Another mystery surrounding the Purple Toothwort is its method of reproduction. Unlike most plants, the Purple Toothwort does not produce seeds. Instead, it reproduces through underground rhizomes, which are horizontal underground stems that produce new plants. This method of reproduction allows the Purple Toothwort to spread and colonize new areas, but it also makes it difficult to propagate and grow the plant in cultivation.

The Importance of Protecting Purple Toothwort

As mentioned earlier, the Purple Toothwort is considered a species of conservation concern due to the loss of its habitat. Protecting this plant and its habitat is important for several reasons. Firstly, the Purple Toothwort provides food and habitat for several species of insects, fungi, and other organisms, making it an important part of the ecosystem. Secondly, the Purple Toothwort is a unique and valuable plant that has been used for medicinal purposes and has cultural significance in some communities. Lastly, preserving the Purple Toothwort helps to ensure that future generations can enjoy and learn about this mysterious wildflower.

How You Can Help

There are several ways that you can help to protect the Purple Toothwort and its habitat. Firstly, you can support organizations that work to conserve wildflowers and their habitats. Secondly, you can help to reduce the impact of deforestation and the conversion of forests into agricultural land by choosing products that are sustainably sourced and supporting conservation efforts. Lastly, if you are interested in growing the Purple Toothwort, you can purchase plants that have been grown in cultivation and not collected from the wild.

In conclusion, the Purple Toothwort is a fascinating and unique wildflower that is worth protecting. By understanding and appreciating its value, we can help to ensure that this plant remains a part of our natural heritage for future generations.

Distribution Map

Reproduced by kind permission of the BSBI.

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