Thistle broomrape (Orobanche reticulata)

Thistle broomrape flowers
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Thistle broomrape fact file

Thistle broomrape description

GenusOrobanche (1)

All broomrapes are said to resemble 'withered orchids' (4); they are parasitic, and lack the green pigment chlorophyll. Thistle broomrape is a stocky plant, and has yellow stems often with a purple tinge. The leaves are scale-like and the flowers, which have two lips, are yellowish-white or purple in colour (2).

Height: around 40 cm (2)

Thistle broomrape biology

Thistle broomrape is a parasite of the roots of thistle, particularly of creeping thistle, Cirsium arvense and seems to prefer small, young host plants (3). It is a perennial species (lives for more than one year) but can also occur as an annual or a biennial, depending on the situation (3). It first appears in July and produces many small seeds, which have good powers of dispersal and seem able to remain dormant for a number of years (3).


Thistle broomrape range

In the UK, this species occurs only in Yorkshire in about 70 populations (3). It also occurs throughout much of Europe reaching into North Africa and western Asia. The status of the species in Britain is not clear; some authorities believe that it is a separate species to the form that occurs on the continent, and is therefore endemic to our shores (3).

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

Thistle broomrape habitat

Inhabits riverbanks, flood plains, road verges, and semi-natural grasslands (3).


Thistle broomrape status

Classified as Lower Risk- near threatened in Great Britain and listed on Schedule 8 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act (3).


Thistle broomrape threats

The most serious threat to this species is the destruction of the host plants, which are agricultural pests. Ploughing, road building, and spraying are also threats (3).


Thistle broomrape conservation

Thistle broomrape receives full protection under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, it is therefore illegal to cut, uproot, destroy or sell this species. As the species cannot survive in dense vegetation, disturbing the soil and opening up the sward is beneficial, and has increased the population at a few sites (3).

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


Information authenticated by Plantlife, the wild plant conservation charity:



Lives or grows for just one year.
A plant that lives for two years and typically flowers only in the second year.
A group of green pigments found in photosynthetic organisms (photosynthesis is a metabolic process characteristic of plants in which carbon dioxide is reduced, using energy absorbed by the green pigment chlorophyll. Organic compounds are made and oxygen is given off as a by-product).
A species or taxonomic group that is only found in one particular country or geographic area.
In plants, petal or petals that form a lobe.
An organism that derives its food from, and lives in or on, another living organism at the host's expense.
Plants that live for at least three seasons; after an initial period they produce flowers once a year.


  1. National Biodiversity Network Species Dictionary ( January 2003)
  2. Press, B. & Gibbons, B. (1993) Photographic field guide: Wild Flowers of Britain and Europe. New Holland (Publishers) Ltd., London.
  3. Wigginton, M. J. (1999) British Red Data Books 1; Vascular Plants. 3rd Edition. JNCC, Peterborough.
  4. Mabey, R. (1996) Flora Britannica. Sinclair-Stevenson, London.

Image credit

Thistle broomrape flowers  
Thistle broomrape flowers

© Bill Meek / CEH Monks Wood

Bill Meek
Tel: +44 (0) 1487 772 400


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