Lousewort and other hemiparasites - a supplement to rattle

Amy
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Lousewort and other hemiparasites - a supplement to rattle

Post by Amy »

Lousewort (Pedicularis sylvatica), a hemiparasite of grasses and other plants, is in flower now, mid May. I have seen massed pink patches of it on the drier sections of old very short rush pasture, former moorland. It is one of those tiny moorland flowers like heath milkwort, which is very easy to walk over and only subconsiously notice. Most sources say it is an annual, others say it is perennial, most say it is common.

I'm mentally marking the location in order to return to collect seed later.

(I've not collected seed, myself, before, but I've seen a youtube video this week where the videomakers have collected seed from lousewort and eyebright (flowering in July) for their upland wildflower meadow in Wales.)

Looking at the New Flora of Devon - common eyebright, marsh eyebright, and red bartsia have been seen on the Devon/Somerset edge of Exmoor. Perhaps red bartsia would be easier to find, being a much larger plant, flowering from July to Sept, and the seeds would be correspondingly easier to collect, but I've never yet noticed it anywhere.

Get this - "red bartsia is prolific, producing about 1400 seeds per plant. The seed shells out in September, infesting fields for some time to come. Coarse hairs cover the seeds, enabling them to adhere to clothing and equipment. The seed is light and is easily carried along ditches and through fields by runoff water." from an American website counselling how to deal with invasive (to N America) species.
Surely it must be worth a hunt to find it locally here.

Here's the incentive - marsh eyebright and red bartsia are more likely to be able to cope with wet ground, and seed is only rarely commercially available and is unlikely to have been commercially collected from this area.

Pictures of common lousewort here: https://wildflowerfinder.org.uk/Flowers ... sewort.htm

Happy coincidence - just found this article published this spring: https://www.countryfile.com/wildlife/pa ... h-meadows/
Richard Lewis
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Re: Lousewort and other hemiparasites - a supplement to rattle

Post by Richard Lewis »

Last year I sowed some Yellow Bartsia in a small patch of our micro-meadow, which resulted in a few dozen flowering plants. These were left to seed (much later than yellow rattle) and I'm now waiting to see if any come up again this year, I suspect our soil is too damp and densely vegetated for it to thrive. The seed is tiny and dust-like, similar to orchid seed.

Eyebrights are a species complex, with many closely related similar species which frequently hybridise with each other. They include Vigur's Eyebright which is endemic to Devon and Cornwall. You don't need to know exactly which species of eyebright, but it's a good idea to source it from a habitat that is as similar as possible to your meadow, and as with all plants, as close as possible geographically to your meadow. I'm aiming to try some this year and have found a potential local donor site that is similar ecologically to ours and contains what I think is Euphrasia confusa, and possibly a second species too.
Amy
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Re: Lousewort and other hemiparasites - a supplement to rattle

Post by Amy »

Richard, I should be grateful if you would please explain just exactly how you collect the seed of eyebright? Do you pick stems and dry them/fasten a teabag or similar over a stem/shake it into an envelope or onto a plate, but then it might blow away/have something rather more high tech?...
Thanks
Richard Lewis
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Re: Lousewort and other hemiparasites - a supplement to rattle

Post by Richard Lewis »

For the Yellow Bartsia, I removed one or two fruits from each of a dozen or so plants and put them in a paper bag to dry out for a few days.

I haven't harvested the Euphrasia yet, but as they have many fewer seeds per fruit, I would probably cut a single flower spike from each of the plants and likewise put these in a paper bag to dry. As the fruits ripen sequentially, I would ideally wait until about half of the fruits are already open, to allow some natural seed disturbance so I'm not affeting the natural ecosystem dynamics of the donor site. As with all seed harvesting, it's important to harvest only a small proportion of the seeds from the donor population, especially with annual species which depend on setting seed every year.
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