Great willowherb (Epilobium hirsutum)

Also known as: codlins-and-cream, great hairy willowherb
Synonyms: Epilobium tomentosum
French: Épilobe Hérissé
GenusEpilobium (1)
SizeLeaf size: 6 – 12 x 1.5 – 2.5 cm (2)
Flower diameter: 15 – 23 mm (2)
Stem height: 80 – 150 cm

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

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).

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).

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).

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

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

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:

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:

  1. IUCN Red List (August, 2013)
  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.