Lathraea clandestina

This is a post for no particular reason except that I thought you might be interested. Lathraea clandestina, known as Purple toothwort, is a really strange and slightly creepy plant that grows in profusion at the bottom of our ‘garden’ by the stream around the willows.

When I first saw it in March I thought it was a clump of crocuses—it’s the same sort of purple. On closer inspection it turned out to be not crocuses, and there were clumps of it everywhere. The flowers are large and like hooked teeth and grow at ground level in big clusters. There are no leaves.

It gave me a slightly uneasy feeling so I looked it up on a plant site. It’s native to south west France and northern Spain and grows from the roots of damp-loving trees like willows and alders. A complete parasite, it pokes its head(s) out of the soil in March and flowers a single large purple tooth flower on each scaly stem that you see only if you scrabble the leaf mould away. In June the flowers form pods and explode with uncanny violence. When the spores are dispersed, the plant sinks back into the ground again, leaving no visible trace at all. Hence the local name, Clandestine.

I don’t know about you, but it makes my flesh creep.


Microfiction: Gardening

In the pot with the dead primula, something was poking through the withered leaves, not a single shoot, more like a brush sprouting.

I rescued the living thing from the pot full of death and flinched away from what lay on the trowel—no healthy root, but a clump of brown pods like pomegranate seeds emerged, dense and shiny, chitin-like, a colony about to hatch. The mass quivered. Was it the breeze? My trembling hand? I hesitated between destroying the thing and curiosity. Curiosity won.

I have put it in a pot in isolation at the end of the path, away from the flowers. I inspect it every day, watch the brush bristles shove higher, purplish brown, awkward-looking, thrusting in different directions. Today, small, flat leaves opened. Like hands waving. In thanks, or in threat?