Melampyrum cristatum

Tracheophyta MagnoliopsidaScrophulariaceaeMelampyrumMelampyrum cristatum


An annual hemiparasite of various woody and herbaceous species; mostly found on the margins of ancient Quercus robur woodlands, their clearings and rides and in associated field hedge banks on chalky boulder-clay soils. It is very rarely found in open grassland. Lowland.



World Distribution

Eurosiberian Temperate element, with a continental distribution in W. Europe.

Broad Habitats

Boundary and linear features (eg hedges, roadsides, walls)

Light (Ellenberg): 6

Moisture (Ellenberg): 3

Reaction (Ellenberg): 8

Nitrogen (Ellenberg): 2

Salt Tolerance (Ellenberg): 0

January Mean Temperature (Celsius): 3.4

July Mean Temperature (Celsius): 16.3

Annual Precipitation (mm): 606

Height (cm): 50

Perennation - primary


Life Form - primary

Therophyte (annual land plant)



Clonality - primary

Little or no vegetative spread

Count of 10km squares in Great Britain: 62

Count of 10km squares in Ireland: 0

Count of 10km squares in the Channel Isles: 0

Atlas Change Index: -0.88

JNCC Designations


Scarce Atlas Account

Scarce Atlas Account: 

Melampyrum cristatum L.

Crested cow-wheat

Status: scarce


This plant is an obligate hemiparasite of various woody and herbaceous species, predominantly found on the margins of ancient oak woodland and in its clearings and rides. It occasionally grows on roadside verges and hedgebanks where these have at some time bordered woodland. It occurs very exceptionally in open grassland. It is thermophilous on the continent and largely restricted to the most continental area of Great Britain where it grows on calcium-rich soils derived from boulder clay. It is restricted to the lowlands. 

It is a summer annual which lives for about 7 months, flowering from the age of 4 months onward. Plants are pollinated by bumble-bees. If cross-pollination fails the stamens move to effect self-pollination. Seed dispersal is limited by the large seed size but the ant Lasius flavus acts as a dispersal agent in some British sites. The seed exhibits double dormancy and may persist for some years before germination is triggered by coppicing and soil disturbance.

This plant is apparently in decline, with its range contracting. Populations have been lost through cessation of traditional woodland management, removal of hedges and the increased use of weed killing sprays on verges and agricultural land.

Its distribution is centred on eastern Europe and western Russia, spreading westwards to northern Italy, northern Spain and Britain and eastwards to central Asia.

The autecology of this species is described by Horrill (1972).


F. J. Rumsey

Atlas text references

Atlas (234a)
Horrill AD
1972.  Biological Flora of the British Isles. No. 125. Melampyrum cristatum L. Journal of Ecology. 60:235-244.
Hultén E, Fries M
1986.  Atlas of north European vascular plants north of the Tropic of Cancer. 3 vols.
Meusel H, Jäger E, Rauschert S, Weinert E
1978.  Vergleichende Chorologie der zentraleuropäischen Flora. Volume 2. 2 vols.
Stewart A, Pearman DA, Preston CD
1994.  Scarce plants in Britain.