- Toothwort ( Lathraea squamaria )
- Low short creamy perrenial slightly downy . Flowers pale pink,short stalked in
a drooping , one-sided spike Wholly parasitic plant on roots of woody plants,
especially hazel. Widespread but local; absent from N Scotland and W Ireland.
Leaves reduced to pinkish white scales, borne on lilac stem. Tubular lilac
flowers, in 1sided spike, Apri to May. Height up to 25cm
Similar plants Purple Toothwort ( Lathraea clandestine )
Toothwort is a perennial parasitic plant of up to 20 cm high with no green at all, since it does not possess chlorophyll. It has a pinkish-cream stem. The leaves are scale-like and fleshy and resemble pointed teeth. It has a spike with all its cylindrical, half nodding flowers on one side. The hermaphrodite dull pastel-purple flowers have two lips and a style which is longer than the petals. They are pollinated by bumble-bees and the fruits capsules have a characteristic split along the midrib. A considerable part of this plant is hidden below the soil (see below).
Toothwort can be found throughout the British isles in woodland, hedgerows, and coppices, usually on calcareous fertile soils. It is parasitic on a range of trees and shrubs, especially Alder, Hazel, Beech and Wych Elm.
Here is a long interesting quote about Toothwort from a very good Wild Flower Guide, which contains not only a flora, but also a Natural History of Wild Flowers: (Alasdair Fitter "Wild Flowers of Britain and Northern Europe", general editor David Attenborough, Collins New Generation Guide, 1987).
"The most remarkable parasitic plant must, however, be toothwort, which is closely related to the broomrapes. It too parasitises the roots of other plants, particularly hazel and wych elm: but it does so by means of pad-like suckers which penetrate through the host's tissues into its nutrient transport system. Toothwort has extensive underground stem, liberally coated with fleshy whitish 'leaves; at interval these emerge to form aerial stems, which bear flowers as well as tooth-like leaves.
These leaves contain no chlorophyll and so are clearly not concerned with fixing solar energy, particularly since they are most under the ground. It has been suggested that they are, in fact, complex traps for soil animals, with a central chamber lined with digestive glands, much like those of the more familiar carnivorous plants such as sundews and bladderworts. If so, toothwort is nutritionally about as different from other plants as is conceivable, for it is both a parasite and a predator.
It may be however, that these glands represent the solution to a different problem. All plants transport substances within themselves dissolved in water, and when it reaches its destination, the water is lost by evaporation, typically from its leaves. Toothwort, however, is an underground plant for most of its life and so must loose water by some other means. Water naturally moves from dilute to concentrated solutions; the solution in soil is much more dilute than in plant tissues, so that the tendency is for water in soil to move into plant tissues. The leaves on toothwort's underground stems probably act to pump water out into the soil, against its natural tendency to move in the opposite direction."