Field cow-wheat

Field cow-wheat

Field cow-wheat ©Steve Read

Field cow-wheat

Scientific name: Melampyrum arvense
Once widespread, this attractive plant has declined as a result of modern agricultural practices and is now only found in four sites in South East England.

Species information


Height: up to 60cm high

Conservation status

Endangered – Protected under Schedule 8 of the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981.

When to see

Flowers May to September


This rare and declining plant was once common on arable fields, where it was considered a weed, but has been decimated by modern agricultural practices. It can still be found in a few open grasslands, particularly on dry chalky soils.

Field cow-wheat is a hemiparasite, meaning it gets some of its food from another species, as well as from photosynthesis. It can parasitise a wide range of host species but tends to favour grasses. The large seeds are poisonous.

How to identify

An herbaceous flowering plant, it has striking purple and yellow spiked clusters of flowers on branching stems. The leaves grow on opposite sides of the stem. They are lanceolate (long, pointed and wider in the middle, like the tip of a lance) and may be toothed.


Endangered, only found on 4 sites in South East England

Did you know?

Known locally as poverty weed, people were once paid to pull up the plant and carefully carry it off site to be burnt. Any seeds that were dropped had to be picked up and remove as well.

How people can help

Field cow-wheat is an endangered species. When visiting a reserve where the species is present please take extra care to avoid trampling the plant by keeping to footpaths.

The Wildlife Trusts work closely with farmers and landowners to ensure that our wildlife is protected and to promote wildlife-friendly practices. By working together, we can create Living Landscapes: networks of habitats stretching across town and country that allow wildlife to move about freely and people to enjoy the benefits of nature. Support this greener vision for the future by joining your local Wildlife Trust.

Explore more