False teeth in the Harris Garden.

Copyright expired.

A old botanical illustration of Lathraea squamaria showing both overground and underground features.

The Toothwort, Lathraea squamaria, is a curious parasitic plant in the Orobanchaceae (Broomrape family) that may have gained its English name due to the flower spikes looking like rows of teeth.  The Latin name is perhaps rather more informative of its life: Lathraea is derived from the ancient Greek Lathraios meaning secret and squamaria meaning scaly describing the underground stems.

The plant occurs sporadically throughout the UK in deciduous woodland, commonly parasitising Corylus avellana (Hazel) but is also found on Alnus spp. (Alder)  Fraxinus excelsior (Ash), Fagus sylvatica (Beech), Ulmus spp. (Elm) and Juglans spp. (Walnut).  Our campus plants are found in a mixed thicket of young deciduous trees.

The small stature of the plant and its location in a dense patch of young trees has resulted in it being missed from LeGrice and Jury’s list of campus wildflowers.

Lathraea squamaria with Corylus coppice in the background

Lathraea squamaria with Corylus coppice in the background


This photograph, from one of our roving reporters, was taken using an iPhone some weeks ago.  Checking yesterday the plants have already disappeared below ground until next year.  An exciting find from a curious plant family, the Orobanchaceae, of which we have only a few species on campus.

About Alastair Culham

A professional botanist and biologist with an interest in promoting biological knowledge and awareness to all.
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