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Crested Cow-wheat

Melampyrum cristatum

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Plant Profile

Flowering Months:
Orobanchaceae (Broomrape)
Life Cycle:
Maximum Size:
60 centimetres tall
Grassland, hedgerows, meadows, roadsides, scrub, woodland.

Pink, 1 petal
The inflorescence is a short, leafy spike. The upper lip of the flower is pinkish-purple. The lower lip is yellow. The long bracts are bright pinkish-purple and are strongly recurved backwards. The bracts are also long-toothed. 4 stamens.
A long, flat capsule, up to 1cm long.
A semi-parasitic, annual plant, mainly encountered on the edges of Oak woodland. The long and linear leaves appear in opposite pairs along the stems.
Other Names:
European Cow-wheat.
Frequency (UK):
Rarely seen  

Similar Species

Other Information


Melampyrum cristatum, also known as crested cowwheat or European cowwheat, is a species of flowering plant in the broomrape family (Orobanchaceae). It is native to Europe, where it grows in a variety of habitats, including meadows, grasslands, and wooded areas. The plant is a herbaceous perennial with green, lance-shaped leaves and small, pink or purple flowers that bloom in the summer. Melampyrum cristatum is an important food source for many species of wildlife, and it is also used medicinally and as a natural dye. It is closely related to other species of Melampyrum, such as M. arvense (field cowwheat) and M. pratense (common cowwheat).


Crested Cow-wheat (Melampyrum cristatum) is a species of flowering plant that belongs to the family Orobanchaceae. This herbaceous plant is native to the temperate regions of Europe and Asia, but has been introduced to other parts of the world, including North America. Crested Cow-wheat is a hardy plant that is known for its beautiful flowers and attractive foliage, making it a popular addition to gardens and wildflower meadows.

The plant grows to be about 30 to 60 cm tall and has a bushy, branching habit. The leaves are green and lance-shaped, and grow alternately on the stem. The flowers are small, but showy, and are typically yellow or orange in color. They are arranged in spikes or clusters at the top of the stem, and bloom from late spring to early summer. The flowers are a popular source of nectar for pollinators, including bees, butterflies, and moths.

Crested Cow-wheat is a hardy plant that can grow in a variety of soils, including both well-drained and poorly-drained soils. However, it prefers damp, shady environments, and is often found growing along streams and in woods. The plant is well-suited to growing in a wildflower meadow or naturalized garden, where it can spread and form large clumps. Crested Cow-wheat can also be grown in containers, making it an attractive addition to a patio or balcony.

One of the unique features of Crested Cow-wheat is its ability to grow as a hemiparasite, meaning that it is capable of partially parasitizing other plants for water and nutrients. This allows it to grow in areas that might otherwise be too dry or nutrient-poor for other plants. However, the plant is also capable of growing on its own, without the need for a host.

In addition to its ornamental value, Crested Cow-wheat has a number of traditional uses. In some cultures, the plant was believed to have medicinal properties and was used to treat a variety of ailments, including skin problems, respiratory conditions, and digestive problems. The plant was also used in traditional folklore to ward off evil spirits and as a talisman to bring good luck.

Crested Cow-wheat is a beautiful and versatile plant that is well-suited to gardens and wildflower meadows. Its ability to grow as a hemiparasite and its showy flowers make it a unique and attractive addition to any landscape. Whether you are looking to add some color to your garden or create a naturalized area, Crested Cow-wheat is a great choice.

In terms of care and maintenance, Crested Cow-wheat is a low-maintenance plant that is easy to grow. It does not require frequent watering or fertilizing, but does prefer a moist and shady environment. If grown in full sun, the plant may need to be watered more frequently to prevent it from drying out.

One important thing to keep in mind when growing Crested Cow-wheat is that it can be invasive in some areas, so it's important to be careful when planting it near other plants. In areas where the plant is considered invasive, it's important to remove any unwanted shoots or seedlings to prevent it from spreading too rapidly.

Crested Cow-wheat is also a good plant for attracting wildlife to your garden. As mentioned earlier, the flowers are a popular source of nectar for pollinators, and the plant is also a good food source for a variety of insects, including bees, butterflies, and moths. If you are interested in creating a wildlife-friendly garden, planting Crested Cow-wheat is a great way to start.

Finally, it's worth mentioning that Crested Cow-wheat is a good choice for gardeners who are looking for an eco-friendly plant. Unlike some other plants, Crested Cow-wheat is easy to grow without the use of pesticides or fertilizers, making it a great choice for those who are looking to create a more sustainable garden.

In conclusion, Crested Cow-wheat is a beautiful and hardy plant that is well-suited to gardens and wildflower meadows. With its showy flowers, attractive foliage, and low-maintenance needs, it is a great choice for anyone who is looking to add some color and interest to their landscape.

In addition to its ornamental and ecological benefits, Crested Cow-wheat has also been the subject of scientific study. Researchers have been interested in the plant's unique ability to grow as a hemiparasite, and have studied the molecular and genetic mechanisms that underlie this behavior.

Studies have also looked at the plant's potential as a bioindicator. Because it can grow in a variety of soil types and environments, Crested Cow-wheat is considered a good indicator of environmental conditions. Researchers have used the plant to study the effects of pollution and other environmental stressors, and have found that changes in the plant's growth and reproduction can be used to detect changes in the environment.

Another area of study has been the plant's traditional uses. While some of the traditional uses of Crested Cow-wheat have not been scientifically proven, researchers are interested in the potential for the plant to have medicinal properties. Studies have looked at the chemical compounds in the plant, and have identified a number of compounds that have potential anti-inflammatory and anti-tumor properties.

In conclusion, Crested Cow-wheat is a fascinating plant that has captured the attention of researchers, gardeners, and nature lovers alike. Whether you are interested in its ornamental value, its potential as a bioindicator, or its traditional uses, there is much to discover about this unique and versatile plant. If you are looking for a new addition to your garden, consider adding Crested Cow-wheat to your landscape – you won't be disappointed!

Distribution Map

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