Veronica spicata

Tracheophyta MagnoliopsidaScrophulariaceaeVeronicaVeronica spicata


A perennial herb of well-drained, nutrient-poor soils. In East Anglia, subsp. spicata usually grows on acidic to base-rich sandy soils in open, shortly-grazed grassland. Elsewhere, subsp. hybrida grows in thin soils on base-rich cliffs, grassland and rocks. Generally lowland, but reaching 400 m in Ribblesdale (Mid-W. Yorks.).



World Distribution

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

Broad Habitats

Light (Ellenberg): 8

Moisture (Ellenberg): 3

Reaction (Ellenberg): 7

Nitrogen (Ellenberg): 2


Salt Tolerance (Ellenberg): 0

January Mean Temperature (Celsius): 3.7

July Mean Temperature (Celsius): 15.3

Annual Precipitation (mm): 949

Life form information

Height (cm): 45

Perennation - primary


Life Form - primary


Life Form - secondary


Comment on Life Form

dies back to creeping stems; closer to hemicryptophyte



Clonality - primary

Shortly creeping and rooting at nodes

Count of 10km squares in Great Britain: 28

Count of 10km squares in Ireland: 0

Count of 10km squares in the Channel Isles: 0

Atlas Change Index: 0.13

Distribution information

JNCC Designations


Scarce Atlas Account

Scarce Atlas Account: 

NOTE: The account below is for the sub-species. Closely related species and sub-species may have separate accounts listed elsewhere in the Online New Atlas

Veronica spicata L. subsp. hybrida (L.) Gaudin

Spiked speedwell

Status: scarce


V. spicata subsp. hybrida is a strikingly attractive plant found on Carboniferous limestone and other hard basic rocks. It grows mainly on inaccessible cliff ledges and in rock crevices, but also occurs on shallow, often humic soils on cliff-tops near rock outcrops. Associates include Scabiosa columbaria, which has very similar rosette leaves, and many extremely local or rare species, for example Aster linosyris, Helianthemum canum and Hypochaeris maculata, which may have grown in these western limestone refuges since the late-glacial period. It is found at altitudes from nearly sea-level to 400 metres on Moughton Fell. 

It is a long-lived, sometimes shy-flowering perennial, spreading slowly (about 2-4 cm a year) by prostrate rooting stems. Isolated plants set seed, but seed-set per capsule is low and variable (2-10 seeds), perhaps because of incomplete self-compatibility. The small, oily-surfaced, rugose seeds are c. 0.8-1 mm long and are dispersed locally by wind and rain-splash. In cultivation, germination and seedling establishment is erratic and sparse, with seedlings occasionally establishing from seeds apparently transported up to 1.5 metres away by ants.

Quarrying was the main threat to its limestone refuges in the past. Many are now protected as nature reserves and are comparatively safe. The main threats are native scrub encroachment and overgrowth by invading Cotoneaster spp.

V. spicata is widespread and variable in continental Europe, with five subspecies (Tutin et al. 1972). Plants in western British populations vary in size (Avon Gorge plants have flowering spikes up to 45 cm high, most other populations only up to 25 cm at most) and leaf shape, with many differences being maintained in cultivation. They are thought to have survived in their present scattered refuge sites since the late-glacial period about 10,000 years ago, when V. spicata was probably widespread in ‘steppe-tundra’ vegetation (Pigott & Walters 1954). Their genetic differences are likely to result from fragmentation of late-glacial clines, supplemented by selection and genetic drift in small, long-isolated populations. Contact between populations and colonisation of new sites has probably been very rare, if it has occurred at all, although accidental transport of V. spicata seeds by far-ranging site-specific birds (e.g. nesting peregrine falcons) is a possible means for this.

V. spicata subsp. spicata is found in a few localities in East Anglia. It is included in the Red Data Book (Perring & Farrell 1983).


Q. O. N. Kay

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 (229d)
Atlas Supp (51b)
Atlas of north European vascular plants north of the Tropic of Cancer. 3 vols,
Hultén, E., and Fries M.
, Königstein, (1986)

Vergleichende Chorologie der zentraleuropäischen Flora. Volume 2. 2 vols,
Meusel, H., Jäger E., Rauschert S., and Weinert E.
, Jena, (1978)

The conservation of scarce and declining plant species in lowland Wales: population genetics, demographic ecology and recommendations for future conservation in 32 species of lowland grassland and related habitats. (Science Report No. 110),
Kay, Q. O. N., and John R.
, Bangor, (1995)

Scarce plants in Britain,
Stewart, A., Pearman D. A., and Preston C. D.
, Peterborough, (1994)

British Red Data Books. 1. Vascular plants, edn 3,
Wigginton, M. J.
, Peterborough, (1999)

Biological Flora of the British Isles. No. 213. Veronica spicata L. ssp. spicata and ssp. hybrida (L.) Gaudin,
Wilson, G. B., Houston L., Whittington W. J., and Humphries R. N.
, Journal of Ecology, Volume 88, p.890-909, (2000)