A perennial herb of species-rich chalk grassland, open scrub, earthworks and verges. It is tolerant of grazing, and seems to prefer grazed areas, but also grows in neighbouring ungrazed grassland. Propagation is mostly by seed but it also spreads by stoloniferous growth. Lowland.
This species was last recorded before 1930 in most of the squares for which there is no recent record. Its 10-km square distribution now appears to be stable, although some sites have been lost through ploughing of chalk grassland or its agricultural improvement.
European Boreo-temperate element; at low altitudes in W. Europe and in mountains of C. Europe.
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Light (Ellenberg): 7
Moisture (Ellenberg): 4
Reaction (Ellenberg): 8
Nitrogen (Ellenberg): 3
Salt Tolerance (Ellenberg): 0
January Mean Temperature (Celsius): 3.9
July Mean Temperature (Celsius): 16.3
Annual Precipitation (mm): 806
Height (cm): 50
Perennation - primary
Life Form - primary
Clonality - primary
Count of 10km squares in Great Britain: 55
Count of 10km squares in Ireland: 0
Count of 10km squares in the Channel Isles: 0
Atlas Change Index: -0.16
Scarce Atlas Account
Phyteuma orbiculare L.
A perennial species of ancient calcareous grassland, confined in Great Britain to lowland chalk. It occurs in Bromopsis erecta, Festuca ovina and F. rubra grasslands, and is associated with such species as Anacamptis pyramidalis, Asperula cynanchica, Hippocrepis comosa, Lotus corniculatus and sometimes rarer and more exacting calcicoles. As with most perennials adapted to chalk habitats, it can tolerate grazing, and under these conditions produces short-stemmed, leafy, open rosettes of basal leaves. Where it grows in the shade of Brachypodium pinnatum and Bromopsis erecta in ungrazed grassland, the basal leaves are reduced in number and have long petioles and narrower blades.
This is a perennial species. Some vegetative spread occurs by runners but reproduction appears to be mostly by seed, which is copiously produced.
The distribution seems to be fairly stable at present, but it no longer occurs in Kent, where it was recorded until c. 1940. It will tolerate fairly tall grass and some small degree of fertiliser enrichment, but cannot survive in dense scrub or with heavy fertiliser applications. The map does not make clear the extraordinary abundance of this species in the South Downs of Sussex and extreme E. Hants; elsewhere (in Wiltshire and the North Downs) it is much more local and scattered.
P. orbiculare is widespread in south-central Europe from Belgium southwards, but P. tenerum sensu stricto has an oceanic distribution (very like that of Thesium humifusum and Gentianella amarella) that is unusual among chalk grassland plants.
The British plant has been known as P. tenerum and the plants of north-west France (e.g. Fontainebleau) seem identical to ours; those further afield in central Europe and the Alps do look quite different with their large bract subtending the inflorescence.
F. Rose & D. E. Green