Great willowherb (Epilobium hirsutum)

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Great willowherb flower and sead head
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Great willowherb fact file

Great willowherb description

KingdomPlantae
PhylumAnthophyta
ClassMagnoliopsida
OrderMyrtales
FamilyOnagraceae
GenusEpilobium (1)

Great willowherb (Epilobium hirsutum) is a tall, common herb. It has a densely hairy stem (2) bearing long, narrow leaves that taper to a point and are similar in appearance to those of willows, hence the name ‘willowherb’ (3). The leaves and stems are very woolly, referred to by the specific Latin name ‘hirsutum', which means hairy. The flowers have a rosy flush and the stigmas are creamy white. This colouration is thought to have led to the alternative name of ‘codlins-and-cream’; codlins were cooking apples, and were often boiled in milk and eaten with cream (3). The seeds are contained within a downy, narrow seed capsule which measures 5-8 cm in length (2).

Also known as
codlins-and-cream, great hairy willowherb.
Synonyms
Epilobium tomentosum.
French
Épilobe Hérissé.
Size
Leaf size: 6 – 12 x 1.5 – 2.5 cm (2)
Flower diameter: 15 – 23 mm (2)
Stem height: 80 – 150 cm
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Great willowherb biology

Great willowherb is a perennial herb that spreads by seed or by means of branching white subterranean rhizomes (4) that are produced during summer (2) and can result in large, dense clumps of this plant (4). The flowers are visited by hoverflies and bees (2).

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Great willowherb range

This plant is common throughout most of Britain, with the exception of the far north-west (2). The species has increased in numbers in Wales, south west Scotland and north England (4). Great willowherb is found in mainland Europe as far north as southern Sweden. It also occurs in temperate parts of Asia, and north, east and south Africa. It has been introduced to North America (2).

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

Although this species can withstand dry habitats, it is typically found in damp, open habitats such as pond or stream banks, marshes, ditches, damp woodlands and waste ground (4).

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Great willowherb status

The great willowherb is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1).

IUCN Red List species status – Least Concern

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Great willowherb threats

This species is not currently considered to be threatened (1).

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Great willowherb conservation

Conservation action is not required for this very common species (1).

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 British native plants and for details of how to get involved in plant conservation visit the website of Plantlife, the wild plant charity:
www.plantlife.org.uk

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Authentication

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:
arkive@wildscreen.org.uk

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Glossary

Perennial
Plants that live for at least three seasons; after an initial period they produce flowers once a year.
Rhizomes
Rhizomes are thickened, branching, creeping storage stems. Although most rhizomes grow laterally just along or slightly below the soil's surface, some grow several inches deep. Roots grow from the underside of the rhizome, and during the growing season new growth sprouts from buds along the top. A familiar rhizome is the ginger used in cooking.
Stigma
The receptive part of the female reproductive organ of a flower. Pollen germinates on the stigma. (See http://www.rbgkew.org.uk/ksheets/pdfs/flower.pdf for a fact sheet on flower structure).
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References

  1. IUCN Red List (August, 2013)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org/
  2. Clapham, A.R., Tutin, T.G. and Moore, D.M. (1987) Flora of the British Isles. Third Edition. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
  3. Grigson, G. (1996) The Englishman’s Flora. Helicon Publishing, Ltd., Oxford.
  4. Preston, C.D., Pearman, D.A. and Dines, T.D. (2002) New Atlas of the British and Irish Flora. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
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Image credit

Great willowherb flower and sead head  
Great willowherb flower and sead head

© Gordon Maclean / gettyimages.com

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