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Thistle Broomrape

Orobanche reticulata

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
Fields, floodplains, gardens, grassland, meadows, riverbanks, riversides, roadsides, scrub, seaside, wasteland, waterside.

Purple, 5 petals
Yellowish-purple flowers with purplish-red anthers.
An egg-shaped capsule.
A parasitic plant hosting on either Creeping Thistle (Cirsium arvense) or Woolly Thistle (Cirsium eriophorum). The plant appears to be leafless but the leaves are actually scale-like and discrete.
Other Names:
Nettle Broomrape, Reticulate Broomrape.
Frequency (UK):
Rarely seen  

Other Information


Orobanche reticulata, also known as the nettle broomrape, is a species of parasitic plant in the family Orobanchaceae. It is native to Europe and is commonly found in grassland, meadows, and pastures. O. reticulata is a rootless plant that derives its nutrients from the roots of other plants, often causing significant damage to the host plant. It has small, yellow or white flowers that bloom in the summer and is known for its ability to survive in dry, nutrient-poor soil. O. reticulata is a major agricultural pest in some areas and is difficult to control due to its ability to regenerate from small fragments of its root system. It is particularly problematic for farmers growing vegetables and cereals, as it can reduce crop yields significantly.


Thistle Broomrape (Orobanche reticulata), also known as reticulate broomrape, is a parasitic plant species that is native to Europe and Asia. It is commonly found growing in Mediterranean regions, and is considered a major problem for crops such as tomato, potato, and tobacco, among others.

The plant is a root parasite, meaning it does not have chlorophyll and relies on its host plant for nutrients. It attaches itself to the roots of the host plant and taps into its vascular system, stealing water and nutrients from it. This can weaken or even kill the host plant, leading to significant crop losses.

Identification of Thistle Broomrape is relatively easy, as it grows tall spikes of purple flowers that are generally larger than its host plant. The plant is typically only 10 to 20 centimeters in height, with a single stem and small leaves. Its roots are attached to the roots of the host plant.

Preventative measures to control the spread of Thistle Broomrape include crop rotation and destroying infected plant material. Herbicides may also be used, but must be applied carefully to avoid damaging the host plant. Cultural methods, such as deep plowing or the use of resistant crop varieties, may also help to reduce the severity of infestations.

Thistle broomrape is an obligate parasite, meaning that it cannot photosynthesize and rely solely on the host plant for its sustenance. Once the plant has established itself, it grows rapidly and can produce up to 20,000 seeds per plant. These seeds can remain viable in the soil for many years, making it difficult to eradicate the plant once it has become established in an area.

Another factor that contributes to the difficulty of controlling Thistle broomrape is its life cycle. The plant can germinate in response to certain chemical signals produced by the host plant, so it is able to infect the host even before it emerges from the soil. This makes it challenging to control the plant with herbicides, as the chemical must be applied before the plant emerges.

In addition to the negative impact on crops, Thistle broom rape can also affect the biodiversity of the area by altering the composition of plant communities. By reducing the host plant's ability to compete with other species, Thistle broom rape can change the balance of the ecosystem and have ripple effects on the animals and insects that rely on the host plant for food and habitat.

To prevent the spread of Thistle broom rape, farmers should be vigilant about inspecting their fields for the presence of the plant. If infested fields are found, it is important to isolate them from nearby fields and destroy any infected plant material. Additionally, farmers should avoid moving soil or plant material from infected fields to non-infested fields, as this can easily spread the plant.

It is also important to educate the public about Thistle broom rape, as the plant can easily spread from one location to another through the movement of soil and plant material. For example, hikers and campers can inadvertently spread the plant by carrying soil on their shoes or clothing from infested areas.

To prevent the spread of Thistle broom rape, it is also important to properly dispose of plant material from infected fields. This can include removing the infected plant material from the site and burying it, or burning it in an approved incinerator. Additionally, infected fields should be monitored for several years after the last outbreak to ensure that the plant has not re-established itself.

There is also ongoing research aimed at developing resistant crop varieties that are less susceptible to attack by Thistle broom rape. This could provide a long-term solution to controlling the plant, as the host plant would no longer provide the resources needed for the parasite to thrive.

In conclusion, Thistle broom rape is a serious problem for farmers and can have a significant impact on crops and the ecosystem. It is important to take action to prevent and control its spread, through a combination of education, cultural practices, and research. With everyone's cooperation, it is possible to minimize the damage caused by this invasive species.

Distribution Map

Reproduced by kind permission of the BSBI.

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