Downy woundwort (Stachys germanica)

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Downy woundwort
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Downy woundwort fact file

Downy woundwort description

KingdomPlantae
PhylumAnthophyta
ClassMagnoliopsida
OrderLamiales
FamilyLabiatae
GenusStachys (1)

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).

Size
Height: 10 - 70 cm, occasionally up to 125 cm (2)
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Downy woundwort biology

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).

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Downy woundwort range

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).

You can view distribution information for this species at the National Biodiversity Network Gateway.
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Downy woundwort habitat

Occurs on dry, moderately calcareous, soils in open grassland, hedge bottoms, tracksides, quarries, scrub, ditch-sides and fallow land (2) with plenty of light and warmth (4).

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Downy woundwort status

Fully protected under Schedule 8 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981 (3).

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Downy woundwort threats

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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Downy woundwort conservation

The downy woundwort is fully protected under Schedule 8 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act of 1981. It is therefore illegal to uproot, cut, destroy or sell this plant or any part of it (3).

There may be further information about this species available via the National Biodiversity Network Gateway.
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Find out more

For more on this species see the book: New Atlas of the Flora of Britain and Ireland, by Preston, C. D., Pearman, D. A., Dines, T. D. (2002). Published by Oxford University Press, London.

Visit the website of the Botanical Society of the British Isles at:
http://www.bsbi.org.uk/

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Authentication

Information authenticated by Jo Dunn of the Cotswold Rare Plants Group.

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Glossary

Biennial
A plant that lives for two years and typically flowers only in the second year.
Calcareous
Containing free calcium carbonate, chalky.
Lip
In plants, petal or petals that form a lobe.
Perennial
Plants that live for at least three seasons; after an initial period they produce flowers once a year.
Whorl
In animals, the spiral or convolutions in the shell of a snail. In plants, a set of leaves, flowers, or branches that spring from a stem at the same point and encircle it.
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References

  1. National Biodiversity Network Species Dictionary (Jan 2003) http://www.nhm.ac.uk/nbn/
  2. Dunn, A. J. (1997) Biological flora of the British Isles: No. 196. Stachys germanica. Journal of Ecology85: 531-539.
  3. Species other than birds specially protected under The Wildlife And Countryside Act, 1981: Schedule 8 (Plants). (March 2002): www.jncc.gov.uk/species/protect/plants.htm
  4. Mabey, R. (1996) Flora Britannica. Sinclair-Stevenson, London.
  5. Marren, P. R. (1988). The past and present distribution of Stachys germanica L. in Britain. Watsonia17: 59-68.
  6. Dunn, A. J. (1991) Further observations on Stachys germanica. L. Watsonia18: 359-367.
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Image credit

Downy woundwort  
Downy woundwort

© Ro FitzGerald

Ro FitzGerald
arkive@wildscreen.org.uk

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