An annual or biennial herb of neutral grassland and in grassy thorn scrub, on clayey or alluvial soils. The sites are sheltered and S.-facing. Its seed is apparently short-lived. Lowland.
T. maximum was first recorded in Britain around 1670. It persisted in Middlesex until 1837, and was recorded at Tilbury (S. Essex), between 1875 and 1984. The current localities at Benfleet (S. Essex) were discovered in 1949 and 1966, where some populations have survived development and encroaching scrub, aided by seed collection and sowing in situ. T. maximum is treated here as a rare alien, but regarded as a possible native by Wigginton (1999).
Native from S. & S.C. Europe and N. Turkey to the Caucasus and N. Iran.
Light (Ellenberg): 7
Moisture (Ellenberg): 3
Reaction (Ellenberg): 6
Nitrogen (Ellenberg): 5
Salt Tolerance (Ellenberg): 0
January Mean Temperature (Celsius): 4
July Mean Temperature (Celsius): 16.3
Annual Precipitation (mm): 739
Count of 10km squares in Great Britain: 11
Count of 10km squares in Ireland: 1
Count of 10km squares in the Channel Isles: 0
RDB Species Accounts
Tordylium maximum L. (Apiaceae)
Status in Britain: ENDANGERED.
Status in Europe: Not threatened.
T. maximum seems to have become established along the Thames valley some time before 1670, having been recorded in Middlesex between St. James and Chelsea, and in two or three places between Isleworth and Twickenham, persisting at one of the latter until at least 1837 (Kent 1975). A single plant, presumably casual, was recorded from Esher in 1871. In 1875 it was again found close to the Thames, on the verges of Fort Road in the vicinity of Tilbury Fort, South Essex, where it persisted, despite heavy predation for herbarium specimens (Crompton 1974-86), until destroyed by a pipe-laying operation in 1984. Its discovery on south-facing slopes by the Thames at Benfleet, also in South Essex, at two separate locations in 1949 and 1966 respectively (Jermyn 1974), suggests that T. maximum may be an overlooked native plant that firmly established itself during (or perhaps before) the climatic optimum of the sixteenth century - along the broken alluvial banks and clay foothills of the north bank of the Thames, together with other continental thermophiles, such as Lactuca saligna and Vicia bithynica.
Typical habitats for T. maximum are unstable, south-facing sunny banks, often at the interface between thorn scrub and grassland, in a zone frequently grazed by rabbits, on mineral soils derived from either Marine Alluvium or London Clay. Its commonest associate is Arrhenatherum elatius, but Lathyrus hirsutus, Petroselinum segetum, Smyrnium olusatrum and Vicia bithynica grow with it in quantity at both of its Benfleet localities.
T. maximum is an annual or biennial, or possibly a short-lived perennial when excessively grazed. When in flower, in June and July, it bears a superficial resemblance to Torilis japonica though, later, the conspicuous fruit is distinctive. Seed is ready to drop by late August or September. It germinates readily, giving rise in a good year to large numbers of seedlings in the vicinity of mature plants. In hot dry summers both first and second year plants fruit, and then die off or die back by July/August. Plants stay green and overwinter, however, when grazed by rabbits. There is some evidence that seed may remain viable for only a short period. Seed collected and sown the same day resulted in a large new colony at one site, but seed kept and sown the following spring at several sites failed to produce any plants, despite the large amount sown (pers. obs.).
The colony on broken ground amongst encroaching scrub by Benfleet Creek, to the west of Benfleet, produced 25 plants in 1984, but none could be found in 1995. The main, and possibly only surviving colonies in Britain, occur in Hadleigh Country Park near the top of Benfleet Downs, where two patches are known some 300 metres apart, producing between them no more than 100 mature plants in most years. Fortuitously, a fire site made during scrub clearance in 1991, created the ideal conditions for T. maximum, and a large dense patch of at least 1,000 plants produced an abundance of seed in 1995 and 1996. The main threats to its survival are scrub encroachment of the sunny banks and, in recent decades, flail-mowing of the scrub margins during the growing season. Seed collected and dispersed in the area saved the colony from near extinction in 1968, and seed was again collected in August 1995 and dispersed to apparently suitable nearby scrub margins on Benfleet Downs and to a second site near Tilbury Fort.
This species is widespread in the Mediterranean region, including North Africa, extending northwards to Britain and eastwards to the Caucasus. It is regarded as native in northern France, though German and Belgian populations are believed to be associated with human activity, and it may not be native there.
K. J. Adams
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.