An annual, rarely perennial, rootless twining holoparasite of damp nitrophilous places, especially the banks of rivers, but also hedges and ditches. Its primary host is usually Urtica dioica, rarely Humulus lupulus or other species, whence it can spread to a wide spectrum of secondary hosts. It often grows close to flowing water, which may disperse the seeds. Lowland.
C. europaea has been found in many new sites in the E. Midlands since 1970, presumably due to better recording. However, it appears to be in decline in some areas, though is probably still overlooked in others.
Eurosiberian Temperate element; widely naturalised outside its native range.
Count of 10km squares in Great Britain: 126
Count of 10km squares in Ireland: 0
Count of 10km squares in the Channel Isles: 0
Atlas Change Index: 0.04
Scarce Atlas Account
Cuscuta europaea L.
This plant is a rootless parasite which, upon germination, attaches to a primary host. The host is almost invariably Urtica dioica, but rarely Humulus lupulus. C. europaea then parasitises a broad spectrum of secondary hosts - over 40 species in many families have been recorded. It is generally found on the banks of streams and rivers but in some areas it is more frequent on roadside hedges and ditch banks. It always grows in damp nitrophilous conditions where its primary host occurs in abundance. It was once recorded as a casual on potatoes. It is restricted to the lowlands.
C. europaea is usually annual but it could possibly perennate on certain hosts. It flowers in August and September. Seeds may be dispersed down stream following winter flooding.
This species has been confused with other members of the genus, and some old records shown in the Atlas of the British Flora are now regarded as unreliable. It has always been uncommon and may be in decline in some areas, though the reasons for this are not clear. Herbicide spraying to combat its primary host may in part be responsible. The recent discovery of the plant in North Essex (Tarpey & Heath 1990) suggests that it may be overlooked in its painful and otherwise botanically unpromising habitat.
This plant has a scattered distribution throughout much of Europe but is absent from the far north and from many of the islands. It is montane at the southern end of its range. It is also found in North Africa and temperate Asia, and known as an introduction in North America.
It is known in Gloucestershire, and perhaps elsewhere, as devil's guts. For a more detailed account of its ecology, see Verdcourt (1948).
F. J. Rumsey
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
1986. Atlas of north European vascular plants north of the Tropic of Cancer. 3 vols.
1978. Vergleichende Chorologie der zentraleuropäischen Flora. Volume 2. 2 vols.
1994. Scarce plants in Britain.
1948. Biological Flora of the British Isles. No. 24. Cuscuta genus L. (p. 356-358), Cuscuta europaea L. (pp. 358-365). Journal of Ecology. 36:356-365.