Lathraea clandestina

Purple Toothwort or Lathraea clandestina is a perennial root parasite that lacks chlorophyll like normal plants that photosynthesise. Lathraea clandestina is now becoming more common in cultivation as an attractive garden specimen for spring. This is due to its unusual flowers that are similar to purple crocuses. Native to Belgium, France, Spain and Italy it has been introduced  in a number of countries, including Britain and New Zealand, where it has naturalised. The flowers are bisexual and produce large amounts of nectar which results in bumblebees pollinating the flowers. The purple-violet flowers contain four stamens and one style with two stigmas. This root parasite is  typically found on Populus and Salix. However it has been found growing on a wide range of other plants in the wild and in cultivation, including Acer, Alnus, Buxus, Carpinus, Corylus, Juglans, Metasequoia, Rhododendron, Taxus, and even in some cases Gunnera. Lathraea clandestina grows best in a shaded woodland where the soil does not dry out and where roots of a likely host are found growing. It can be propagated from seeds scattered at the base of a suitable host tree, or mixed with the soil as soon as the seeds are ripe. Another form of propagation is by division. A small clump can be detached from the parent plant and placed near the roots of the chosen host. Be careful the roots can run deep and are extremely brittle. It likes to be mulched with leaf mould in autumn. It is not the plant of choice for instant effect in the garden as it is can sometimes take ten years before a flowering shoot emerges above the ground – but it is well worth the wait!


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Kirsty Wilson

Horticulture is my inspiration! I am the Herbaceous Supervisor at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh. Photographer, Award winning Garden Designer, BBC Beechgrove Garden Television Presenter & BBC Radio 4 GQT Panellist. I want to inspire people to grow plants, connect with nature and have a positive impact on the world.

One thought on “Lathraea clandestina”

  1. I first saw this plant last year at Edinburgh Botanic Gardens flowering beneath a large willow. I asked about it at the East Gate and they identified it and said it hadn’t been planted.

    I have just bought a plant from Avon Bulbs and will plant it tomorrow in my wood on the Isle of Barra.

    Thanks for your article.


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