This upright herb is densely covered in long, white silky hairs, which give the plant a silvery greyish-green appearance (hence the common name) (2). The flowers occur in a series of whorls up the stem, are pink or pinkish-purple in colour and are about 12-16 mm long, with an upper and lower lip(2). The silky leaves were once used for dressing wounds, and the plant was also thought to relieve stomach pains and menstruation problems (2). The first record of this plant in Britain appeared in Gerard's Herball of 1633, at this time the plant was known as 'Wilde Stingking Horehound' (2).
This rare plant is either a biennial or short-lived perennial(2), and shows a strong fidelity for certain areas (4); it has persisted around Witney in Oxfordshire since at least 1632 (2). The species requires a level of soil disturbance so that the heavy seeds may germinate during the temporary reprise from more aggressive competitors (4), and it has benefited from scrub clearance, 2-3 year rotovating, verge cutting and even a stubble fire (2).
It flowers from July onwards, sometimes into the autumn (2). Tall, multi-stemmed plants produce most flowers, and the amount of seed set is highest where bumblebees are numerous and most active (2). The seeds are able to remain dormant for a long period, and the plant can return to areas from which it has been absent for some time after hedges are cut back or the ground is disturbed (4).
In Britain, downy woundwort has been recorded from several counties scattered through southern England, but is now confined to just a few sites on oolite limestone in west Oxfordshire (2). This species is at the northern-most extreme of its range in the UK (4). It is widespread in western, central and southern Europe, and also occurs in North Africa and the Orient (2).
The main threat is now lack of disturbance; many old sites have become neglected and overgrown (5). The seedlings of the downy woundwort become crowded out by grasses and shaded out by expanding untidy hedgerows (4). Occasionally, seeds have been stripped from plants by wood mice and bank voles (6).
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