Moenchia erecta

Tracheophyta MagnoliopsidaCaryophyllaceaeMoenchiaMoenchia erecta


This annual grows on summer-droughted soils in tightly-grazed grasslands and heaths, on cliff-tops, pathsides, coastal dunes and sandy shingle, usually in open patches where competition is limited. It is also found in quarries and sand-pits, and on other disturbed ground. Generally lowland, but reaching 410 m at Widecombe, Dartmoor (S. Devon).



World Distribution

Suboceanic Southern-temperate element.

© G. Toone, IWNHAS

Broad Habitats

Acid grassland (includes non-calcareous sandy grassland)

Light (Ellenberg): 9

Moisture (Ellenberg): 4

Reaction (Ellenberg): 4

Nitrogen (Ellenberg): 3

Salt Tolerance (Ellenberg): 0

January Mean Temperature (Celsius): 4.2

July Mean Temperature (Celsius): 16

Annual Precipitation (mm): 823

Height (cm): 12

Perennation - primary


Life Form - primary

Therophyte (annual land plant)



Clonality - primary

Little or no vegetative spread

Count of 10km squares in Great Britain: 418

Count of 10km squares in Ireland: 0

Count of 10km squares in the Channel Isles: 14

Atlas Change Index: -0.65

JNCC Designations


Scarce Atlas Account

Scarce Atlas Account: 

Moenchia erecta (L.) Gaertner, Meyer and Scherb.

Upright chickweed

Status: not scarce


This plant grows on open broken soils that are at least seasonally parched. In coastal situations the plant is found on cliff tops, pathsides, dunes and other dry grasslands, often with Cerastium diffusum, Sagina maritima and Sedum anglicum. These grasslands are maintained by a combination of exposure to wind, insolation, soil creep and occasional grazing. The soils in these circumstances tend to be very shallow. The plant is locally abundant inland on the tightly-grazed grasslands and heaths of the New Forest, where it is sometimes found on soils which are waterlogged in winter. M. erecta is known from other scattered inland sites, both in natural habitats and often in adventitious circumstances such as on mineral workings and other disturbed ground. In dry grassland M. erecta may be found in association with Ornithopus perpusillus, and a range of Trifolium species including T. glomeratum, T. ornithopodioides, T. scabrum and T. subterraneum. On richer gley soils associates may include Chamaemelum nubile, Cicendia filiformis, Illecebrum verticillatum and Radiola linoides. It is a lowland plant, but reaches 400 metres near Widecombe on Dartmoor.

M. erecta is an annual, usually germinating in spring and setting seed and dying before mid-summer. The dried remains of flower sterns may persist late into a dry summer. Seed is freely set and falls from the capsule. It readily germinates in bare and broken ground. Where conditions are suitable the plant may become locally abundant.

This plant was formerly widespread on lowland heaths and commons. With the cessation of heavy grazing many heathlands have lost open ground to dwarf shrubs (Erica spp. and Calluna vulgaris), rank grasses (Holcus spp. and Molinia caerulea) and tall scrub (Betula spp. and Salix spp.). As with so many other species, M. erecta is a casualty of socioeconomic changes leading to a decline in pastoral management, combined with a reluctance of conservation managers to graze coastal slopes and heaths. 

M. erecta subsp. erecta is confined to western Europe, with outliers in Italy, Greece and Turkey and it reaches its northern limit in Northumberland. Its distribution is mapped by Jalas & Suominen (1983). Subsp. octandra is found in the western Mediterranean region.

As a rather inconspicuous and early flowering species, this plant is possibly under-recorded.


C. Chatters

Atlas text references

Atlas (72a)
Jalas & Suominen (1983)
Meusel H, Jäger E, Weinert E
1965.  Vergleichende Chorologie der zentraleuropäischen Flora. Volume 1. 2 vols.
Stewart A, Pearman DA, Preston CD
1994.  Scarce plants in Britain.