Small Alison (Alyssum alyssoides)

GenusAlyssum (1)
SizeStem height: 7 - 30 cm (rarely 50 cm) (2)

Fully protected in Great Britain by the Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981 (3).

Small Alison produces small, pale yellow flowers, which often become whitish as they fade with age (4). The seeds are reddish-brown in colour. The greyish-green leaves measure between 6 and 30 (occasionally up to 40) millimetres in length, are oblong becoming narrower towards the base, forming a stalk (4). The genus name Alyssum and the common name Alison both originate from the description of a plant called 'alysson' as a cure for hiccups by the First Century AD Greek physician Dioscorides. Other early physicians thought that the plant was able to heal madness and rabies (5).

Small Alison has been widely recorded in lowland England, and is also occasionally scattered in Scotland, Wales and Ireland (4). It is probably native throughout much of Europe but is introduced in the north. It also occurs as a native eastward to Afghanistan and the Near East and North Africa, and has been widely introduced elsewhere in the world (4).

Small Alison is strongly associated with fields, especially clover fields, and to a lesser extent with railways. It has also been recorded from roadsides, waste ground, docks, gravel pits and tracks (4).

Small Alison is an annual species. It is a 'winter annual', germinating in the autumn, over-wintering as rosettes, and coming into flower early the next summer. The flowers do not produce nectar, and they are not visited by insects as a result (2). It is probably largely self-pollinated (4).

This plant began to be frequently recorded from the 1830s onwards, with records peaking at about the turn of the century, and then declining to a general low level with very few recent records; it is only persistent now in one site. The increase in records was probably associated with increasing seed imports from Eastern Europe for the crop rotation farming system, and the decline is probably associated with the introduction of quality control and regulation of agricultural seed sales, which stopped weed seeds being imported with crops. Small Alison is not particularly persistent in Britain, possibly due to sub-optimal climate and/or habitats (6) (7).

This species receives full legal protection under Schedule 8 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981 (3). It is also included in English Nature's Species Recovery Programme.

For more on the small Alison see:

Information authenticated by Tim Rich of the National Museums and Galleries of Wales.

  1. UNEP-WCMC database (September, 2008)
  2. Stace, C. (1991) The New Flora of the British Isles. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
  3. JNCC (September, 2002)
  4. Karran, A.B. and Rich, T.C.G. (2003) Geographical and temporal distributions of Alyssum alyssoides and Berteroa incana (Brassicaceae) in the British Isles. Watsonia, 24: 499 - 506.
  5. Dictionary of Botanical Epithets (September, 2002)
  6. English Nature. Species Recovery Programme. (September, 2002)
  7. Rich, T.C.G. (1991) Cruciferas of Great Britain and Ireland. BSBI Handbook no. 6. Botanical Society of the British Isles, London.