Thistle broomrape (Orobanche reticulata)

GenusOrobanche (1)
SizeHeight: around 40 cm (2)

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

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).

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).

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

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).

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 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).

Information authenticated by Plantlife, the wild plant conservation charity:

  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.