A long-lived perennial herb of hedge banks, scrubby field-borders, rough ground on cliff-tops, waste places, disused quarries and old walls. Lowland.
S. scorodonia has been known in Jersey since 1689 and in Cornwall since 1712. As the mainland sites are almost entirely near ports and its habitats are ruderal, it may have been accidentally introduced. It is unclear whether the increase in recent records since the 1962 Atlas indicates a real extension of range, or merely better recording, although even within its core areas it appears to be increasing.
Oceanic Southern-temperate element.
Count of 10km squares in Great Britain: 68
Count of 10km squares in Ireland: 0
Count of 10km squares in the Channel Isles: 10
Atlas Change Index: 0.75
RDB Species Accounts
Scrophularia scorodonia L. (Scrophulariaceae)
Balm-leaved figwort, Gornerth Gwenynddail
Status in Britain: LOWER RISK - Nationally Scarce.
Status in Europe: Not threatened. Near-endemic.
In Britain S. scorodonia typically occurs in rather scruffy coastal or near-coastal habitats, including rough grassy or scrubby field margins, hedgebanks, roadsides, old walls, deserted quarries, disused railway lines and waste ground, often in the vicinity of ports and estuaries. Its associated species are unremarkable, and include Ballota nigra, Brachypodium sylvaticum, Dactylis glomerata, Hedera helix, Prunus spinosa, Rubus fruticosus, Smyrnium olusatrum and Urtica dioica.
It is a robust and long-lived perennial, generally 60-100 cm high, but sometimes taller when growing in scrub. It flowers from May to October and, like S. nodosa, appears to be mainly pollinated by Hymenoptera. Plants can produce copious amounts of seed, but nothing is known about seed viability and longevity, and patches of S. scorodonia may sometimes enlarge by vegetative expansion or fragmentation rather than by recruitment of new plants from seed.
In Britain, S. scorodonia is restricted as a presumed native to the Isles of Scilly, Cornwall, Devon and Dorset. It has also been recorded as an introduction in South and West Wales. In the Isles of Scilly, it occurs on all the inhabited islands except St. Agnes, from where it was last recorded in the 1970s. It is most frequent, however, on two uninhabited islands, Samson and St. Helen's. In mainland Cornwall, it is widely scattered but local, being abundant only around the Gannel Estuary and Newquay. In Devon, it is found on Lundy, and in the South Hams around Salcombe and the Kingsbridge Estuary. The latter area is probably now one of its chief strongholds in mainland Britain, with many new populations found in recent years; for example at Batson Creek, East Portlemouth, South Pool, Frogmore and Kingsbridge. It is uncertain whether the species is spreading in South Devon, since it may merely have been under-recorded in the past.
S. scorodonia does not seem to be in any immediate threat, and there is no evidence of decline. Nevertheless, hedgerow removal and the herbiciding or tidying up of scrubby field margins and waste ground might put some populations at risk. At several hedgebank sites the plant seems to have been smothered in dense stands of Galium aparine and Urtica dioica, which have developed possibly as a result of nutrient enrichment from the use of fertilisers on neighbouring farmland. Conversely, it thrives where vegetation has been cut back, and appears also to benefit from hedge maintenance as currently practised.
S. scorodonia is an Oceanic-Western species, confined in Europe to western France, Spain, Portugal, Madeira and the Azores. It also occurs in Morocco and perhaps in Tunisia. In the Channel Islands, it is the commonest Scrophularia species. S. scorodonia is regarded as native in Britain (e.g. Clapham, et al. 1987; Stace 1997) but, as with Spergularia bocconei, the long history of shipping trade between Iberian and western English ports hints at the possibility of it being an ancient introduction.
Further details of the history and distribution of the species in Britain is given in Meredith (1994).
H. M. Meredith
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
La flore atlantique européenne. Documents pour les cartes des productions végétales serie Europe-Atlantique, vol. 1,
, Toulouse, (1962)
Scrophularia scorodonia L. (balm-leaved figwort) - an enigma,
, Botanical Cornwall, Volume 6, p.21-36, (1994)
British Red Data Books. 1. Vascular plants, edn 3,
, Peterborough, (1999)