Red-tipped cudweed (Filago lutescens)

SizeStem height: to 25 cm

Classified as Vulnerable in the UK. Wildlife and Countryside Act, Schedule 8.

Red-tipped cudweed is an upright plant, with a grey-green, branched stem. The leaves are spear-shaped and have fine yellowish hairs on them. The flowers are also yellow, and the bracts, the leaf-like covers which protect the petals as the flower forms, are tinged reddish-purple, giving the plant its common name.

The plant is widespread throughout Europe, though thought to be in decline. In the UK, it was once found as far north as Yorkshire. Today, it is mainly confined to southern and eastern England, being found on 16 sites scattered across, Hampshire, Sussex, Surrey, Essex, Suffolk, Cambridgeshire, Norfolk and Gloucestershire.

Red-tipped cudweed is a plant of sandy soils, which are regularly disturbed. It has been found on the edge of arable fields, woodland rides and heaths, and alongside tracks.

This annual species flowers between June and September. Experiments have shown that it probably germinates in autumn or winter. It seems to be somewhat irregular in its occurence, and the length of time the seeds can remain viable in the ground is still unknown. Disturbing ground where the plant has previously been recorded in October or January has resulted in the appearance of the cudweed. However, it is not certain whether regular tilling of the soil, either annually or every two years, will always produce results.

There are thought to be a number of factors which have lead to the increasing scarcity of red-tipped cudweed. Changes in agricultural practices, including greater use of herbicides, the loss of traditional crop rotations, destruction of field margins and earlier summer harvests, have probably been the most damaging. It is also thought that metalling and hard coring of unmade paths and tracks, along with a decline in grazing might also be a contributing factor.

The red-tipped cudweed is listed in the UK Biodiversity Action Plans (UKBAPs), and included in English Nature's Species Recovery Programme (SRP). Along with the plant conservation organisation, Plantlife, English Nature is encouraging the implementation of a plan to restore the fortunes of a number of increasingly scarce plants of arable land.

Red-tipped cudweed is also being considered for re-introduction to suitable sites using plants cultivated from seeds stored in the millennium seed bank, managed by the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Along with many other threatened plants that were formerly common on farmland, it is hoped that this pleasant little native will be around for our descendants to enjoy.

For more on this species see:

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