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Toothwort: the root of the matter

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Toothwort: the root of the matter

Hazel coppice can be one of the best habitats in which to find spring flowers and by April the woodland floor is covered in yellow, white and blue blossoms from an array of species. However, if you go to a coppice in late February or in March you may be rewarded by the discovery of this quite rare and unique flower, toothwort (Lathraea squamaria).

Toothwort is a parasitic plant that grows on the roots of trees and has a particular affinity to the hazel. Being parasitic it does not need chlorophyll and so it is a creamy white colour tinged with purple. Those of you familiar with the broomrape family will see a resemblance as they are also parasitic plants and they are distantly related.

This is a tiny flower, not easy to find and may be often overlooked. It certainly occurs on the wooded slopes to the west of the Dorset Wildlife Trust reserve at Stonehill Down and I have also found it in Ashmore Wood.

I am not sure where the name originates. Toothwort is a country name for some other flowers too apparently but it has been adopted by the field guides as the common name for this plant. It may have once been considered a cure for toothache; 'wort' is often associated with healing herbs. The flowers of toothwort do look a bit like teeth and it was generally considered that if there was a resemblance between a flower and a part of the body then the plant would have healing properties on that body part. A long since disproved theory!


 

If you would like to see the complete series that this post is part of click here ---->
This nature note was written by ----> Peter Orchard
This nature nore was written ----> 2 years 2 months ago

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