No, Purple tooth wort isn’t auditioning for George Lucas…

Lathraea clandestina (Purple tooth wort) Mar 15

Lathraea clandestina (Purple tooth wort) Mar 15

This will date me, but this plant could have been invented by George Lucas as barfood in that sleazy intergalactic bar that Han Solo frequented.

But it is a living thing and such a bizarre plant.  You see it in woodlands for a few weeks at this time of the year, and it’s name, Lathraea clandestina, kind of says how it likes to grow- secretly, tucked away in a crevice of a tree or amongst the roots, and it will often look as if it is a flower belonging to some other plant, so you might not realise how disguised it likes to be. And the colour is spectacular. As if someone had upended a pot of vibrant, purple crocuses.

I’m not sure if it flowers every year, but I do know where I first saw it, in the woodland near the River Adour. And that year, funnily enough as if the universe tries to help you when you need an answer, Gardens Illustrated published a short piece by Roy Lancaster about it, and there it was, identified with no effort on my part.

Lathraea clandestina close-up Mar 15

Lathraea clandestina close-up Mar 15

You can see why it is called ‘tooth wort’.  The flowers are teeth-shaped, and only colour up with this deep purple and elongate themselves as they mature. Here you can see the greyer toning of the buds in a more junior clump that I spotted this morning.

Lathraea clandestina, Mar 15. A more junior clump.

Lathraea clandestina, Mar 15. A more junior clump.

It is a root parasite which, apparently, causes no harm to the parent tree or roots, and is becoming more popular as a cultivated plant, according to Kew Gardens.  And you can buy it from Avon Bulbs, though be prepared for a bit of effort to get it established, and have some patience.

For me, I think I would rather come across it growing mysteriously than actually try and cultivate it.  It seems something intrinsically of, and for, the wild, and all the better for being where it wants to be.  But, for the colour alone, and only for a while, it is very desirable. I like to think of Han Solo biting down on a Purple Tooth Wort canape.

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