Common Cow-wheat

Melampyrum pratense

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A delicate looking plant which brightens up the edges of acid woodland with deep golden flowers in the summer. This is an annual herb and Hemi-parasitic plant, meaning that it relies on obtaining some of it’s' nutrients from the roots of nearby plants. Its nectar can only be reached by insects that have a long proboscis, especially bees. If the flower is not pollinated, it will pollinate itself. Its seeds germinate in the autumn, overwinter under snow and continue growing the following year, so the species is therefore an autumn annual. Common Cow-wheat it the larval foodplant of the rare heath fritillary butterfly.


This plant has a relationship with the Wood Ant. The flowers produce a sugary liquid from tiny glands below the petals that the Ants are attracted to and feed on. The seeds of the plant are very similar in appearance to the cocoons of the ant and are transported back to the nest where they can grow.

How to identify

Slight resemblance to Skullcap, but Common Cow-Wheat is yellow not blue. The leaves are narrow and pointed and hard to see blending in well with the grass it grows so well amongst. The yellow flowers always grow in pairs up the stem both facing the same direction. The first pair to emerge being at the top of the (square) stem. The sepal teeth are very long and have brownish markings.

Where to find it

Look for it on the edge of ancient woodland particularly in Essex


When to find it

  • May
  • June
  • July
  • August
  • September

How can people help

Get involved by volunteering at your local woodland and support the coppice works which take place throughout the South East. Coppicing promotes the growth of woodland plants including Common-Cow-wheat which in turn supports wildlife such as the heath fritillary butterfly and pollinating insects like bees. The Wildlife Trust own and manage such reserves in Essex. By joining your local wildlife Trust you can help them to continue this work.

Species information

Common name
Common Cow-wheat
Latin name
Melampyrum pratense
Height c 20-50 cm Flower c 12-18 mm long