Melampyrum sylvaticum

Tracheophyta MagnoliopsidaScrophulariaceaeMelampyrumMelampyrum sylvaticum


An annual hemiparasite found in humid, lightly shaded situations on damp, usually somewhat enriched, acidic soils; in wooded ravines, in grassy hollows and on banks in woodlands and on upland cliff ledges. Near sea level to 760 m on Aonach air Chrith (W. Ross).



World Distribution

European Boreal-montane element.

Broad Habitats

Light (Ellenberg): 4

Moisture (Ellenberg): 5

Reaction (Ellenberg): 2

Nitrogen (Ellenberg): 2


Salt Tolerance (Ellenberg): 0

January Mean Temperature (Celsius): 1.5

July Mean Temperature (Celsius): 12.5

Annual Precipitation (mm): 1532

Life form information

Height (cm): 35

Perennation - primary


Life Form - primary

Therophyte (annual land plant)



Clonality - primary

Little or no vegetative spread

Count of 10km squares in Great Britain: 75

Count of 10km squares in Ireland: 20

Count of 10km squares in the Channel Isles: 0

Atlas Change Index: -0.58

Distribution information

JNCC Designations


External Species Accounts

Scarce Atlas Account

Scarce Atlas Account: 

Melampyrum sylvaticum L.

Small cow-wheat

Status: scarce


This is an obligate hemiparasite of various woody and herbaceous species, usually found in wooded ravines and glens under birch, often with M. pratense which it may parasitise, and be parasitised by. Its sites are floristically similar to the Geranium sylvaticum-rich birch communities of the Norwegian mountains. It is more frequent in damper, more nutrient enriched, grassy species-rich areas than in Vaccinium- and Empetrum- dominated patches but it does appear there if not too dry. In some sites it is restricted to rock ledges. Its altitudinal range is from c. 60 metres to 760 metres on Aonach air Crith.

M. sylvaticum is a summer annual, flowering from June to August. It is probably pollinated by bumble bees but self-pollinates if cross-pollination fails. 

M. sylvaticum was over-recorded in the past because of confusion with forms of M. pratense. Only reliable older records have been mapped. The species appears to be declining. It is extinct in Co. Durham, probably because of over-collecting, but still survives on the Yorkshire side of the R. Tees.

This species is confined to Europe. It extends from Iceland and Scandinavia southwards in montane areas to the Pyrenees, central Italy and southern Bulgaria.


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

Atlas (234d) Curtis TGF, McGough HN
1988.  The Irish Red Data Book. 1. Vascular Plants. Hultén E, Fries M
1986.  Atlas of north European vascular plants north of the Tropic of Cancer. 3 vols. Meusel H, Jäger E, Rauschert S, Weinert E
1978.  Vergleichende Chorologie der zentraleuropäischen Flora. Volume 2. 2 vols.
FitzGerald & Sydes (1998) Stewart A, Pearman DA, Preston CD
1994.  Scarce plants in Britain.