A winter- or spring- annual of dry, open, sandy or gravelly acidic to neutral soils such as the edges of arable fields, tracks, sand-pits, heaths and commons, and particularly characteristic of rabbit scrapes. Populations can vary greatly in size annually. Lowland.
First recorded in 1846, there was a dramatic decline in F. lutescens after the 1950s, attributable to habitat loss, the reduction of the rabbit population and changing agricultural practices. Since 1993 there has been a sharp increase in the number of records due to special surveys and conservation management.
As a possible native, F. lutescens has a European Temperate distribution.
Count of 10km squares in Great Britain: 85
Count of 10km squares in Ireland: 0
Count of 10km squares in the Channel Isles: 0
Atlas Change Index: -0.34
RDB Species Accounts
Filago lutescens Jordan (Asteraceae)
Filago apiculata G. E. Smith ex Bab.
Red-tipped cudweed, Edafeddog Blaengoch
Status in Britain: VULNERABLE. WCA Schedule 8.
Status in Europe: Not threatened.
F. lutescens is a plant of light, open, usually sandy soils of low fertility, and is typically found on ground which has sporadic rather than regular disturbance. Most of the former English records were from the edges of arable fields, on fallows, trackways, heaths and commons. Many of its current sites are subject to intense grazing by rabbits, and the species grows well in the open soil of old rabbit scrapes. It is now mainly associated with species characteristic of sandy, open land rather than with arable weeds: these include Filago minima, F. vulgaris, Geranium pusillum and Spergularia arvensis.
It is mainly a summer-flowering annual, setting seed chiefly between July and October. Seed production is usually good, even in cold damp summers, although plants may be damped off in wet seasons. Plants which have flowered usually die in autumn, but occasionally survive the winter, and those plants may be able to seed the following summer. Most germination occurs between August and November, with further germination in spring. Winter seedlings overwinter as rosettes. Seed longevity is not known although some persistence is suggested by its unexpected appearance in places after soil has been excavated or turned.
F. lutescens has declined dramatically in Britain since the 1950s. At one time it occurred in more than 200 sites in about twenty vice-counties across England, but since 1993 it has been seen at only sixteen sites in twelve hectads. Rich (1994b; 1996a) has documented its occurrence in Suffolk, Cambridgeshire, Essex, Sussex, Surrey and Hampshire, and a new site was found in Gloucestershire in 1997. Its stronghold has always been Surrey, and by far the largest extant populations are near Godalming. At its remaining sites, numbers fluctuate markedly, presumably in response to the state of the habitat and the weather, but most populations are small. Between 1993 and 1997 only 4-5 sites held more than a thousand plants, and some fewer than twenty individuals in some years. Between 1993 and 1997 the national population ranged from a few thousands to over a hundred-thousand plants. Two sites are currently protected as SSSIs, in Surrey and Suffolk.
The main cause of its decline in Britain has been the intensification of arable farming. Whilst the centuries-old pattern of an autumn harvest, overwintering stubble and spring sowing fostered summer- and autumn-flowering annuals such as the cudweeds, modern arable cultivation leaves them no room. Densely sown, vigorous crops shade the soil, autumn cultivation and sowing destroys seedlings and overwintering rosettes and summer harvests cut down the flowering plants before seed is set. Another important factor has probably been the rabbit decline of the 1950s, which allowed much open ground to become overgrown by coarse herbage and scrub (FitzGerald 1988a). It seems to do poorly on former arable fields which have been left uncultivated as, for example, those in long-term set-aside schemes (Rich 1994b). Further investigations are needed to determine the most appropriate means of conserving this species.
Conservation management is carried out at some sites, with the aim of maintaining open ground. At a site in Suffolk, the ground is rotavated in alternate years. Germination in response to various cultivation regimes is being studied. Active conservation management should be instigated at other sites, especially where rabbit populations have declined because of myxomatosis or viral mycorrhagia.
It is mainly a central European species, though ranging from southernmost Sweden southwards to Slovakia, northern Italy and central Spain.
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.
1992. Vergleichende Chorologie der zentraleuropäischen Flora. Volume 3. 2 vols.
1999. British Red Data Books. 1. Vascular plants, edn 3.