Linum perenne

Tracheophyta MagnoliopsidaLinaceaeLinumLinum perenne


A perennial herb, growing in open, well-drained situations on base-rich substrates, including lightly-grazed grassland, dry banks and roadsides. From near sea level in Kirkcudbrightshire to 340 m near Crosby Ravensworth (Westmorland).



World Distribution

Circumpolar Boreo-temperate element, with a disjunct distribution. The L. perenne group is taxonomically complex; our plant is subsp. anglicum which is a British endemic.

© Shannon, P

Broad Habitats

Calcareous grassland (includes lowland and montane types)

Light (Ellenberg): 7

Moisture (Ellenberg): 3

Reaction (Ellenberg): 8

Nitrogen (Ellenberg): 2


Salt Tolerance (Ellenberg): 0

January Mean Temperature (Celsius): 3.2

July Mean Temperature (Celsius): 15.3

Annual Precipitation (mm): 691

Life form information

Height (cm): 55

Perennation - primary


Life Form - primary




Clonality - primary

Little or no vegetative spread

Count of 10km squares in Great Britain: 58

Count of 10km squares in Ireland: 0

Count of 10km squares in the Channel Isles: 0

Atlas Change Index: 0.43

Distribution information

JNCC Designations


Scarce Atlas Account

Scarce Atlas Account: 

Linum perenne L.

Perennial flax

Status: scarce



This plant grows in base-rich grassland over chalk, limestone or calcareous sand. It is found in open, sunny, well-drained situations on road verges, dry banks, lightly grazed grassland and similar habitats. Frequent associates include Galium verum, Helianthemum nummularium, Linum catharticum, Lotus corniculatus, Sanguisorba minor and Scabiosa columbaria. It is mainly a lowland plant, ranging from sea-level, where it grows in coastal sand in Kirkcudbrightshire, to 300 metres altitude on limestone grassland near Shap.

It is perennial, reproducing by seed, and is capable of colonising suitable open areas. However, it is slow growing and a poor competitor and is readily shaded out by encroaching scrub and tall plants. Overgrazing and repeated close mowing will also lead to its elimination. Individuals can be long-lived and capable of throwing up a large number of ascending, annual stems. The petals are fugacious and are shed soon after pollination, but new flowers open daily and the plant has a fairly protracted flowering season.

Within the last hundred years or so, the plant has become extinct in several localities and many of the present populations are small. Disturbance by man and reduced grazing have no doubt contributed towards this. However, there are at least three large populations containing many hundreds of plants, in Cambridgeshire, Co. Durham and Kirkcudbrightshire.

Our plant is subsp. anglicum (Miller) Ock. This subspecies is endemic to Britain and is the only member of the taxonomically-difficult L. perenne group to occur in this country. Variability can be appreciable, especially in habit and stem length and leaf size. In at least two populations (Cambridgeshire, Westmorland), a small proportion of plants have white flowers, L. perenne sensu law is widespread but local in Europe, occurring from the Pyrenees to the Urals (Hulten & Fries 1986). Fossil seeds of L. perenne have been found in a number of deposits dating from the last glacial period, and particularly in eastern England. Godwin (1975) interprets its current distribution as a relic of a more widespread former range. 

For further details of the ecology of this species, see Ockendon (1968).



M. J. Y. Foley

PLANTATT - Attributes of British and Irish plants. (.zip 1455KB) This dataset was compiled and published in 2004, and last updated in November 2008. Download includes an Excel spreadsheet of the attributes, and a PDF explaining the background and nomenclature. Note that the PDF version is the booklet as published, whereas the Excel spreadsheet incorporates subsequent corrections. A hardcopy can be purchased from the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology.

Atlas text references

Atlas (90a)
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.
Ockendon DJ
1968.  Biological Flora of the British Isles. No. 113. Linum perenne L. ssp. anglicum (Miller) Ockendon. Journal of Ecology. 56:871-882.
Stewart A, Pearman DA, Preston CD
1994.  Scarce plants in Britain.