A parasitic plant

Message from a park goer:
I took this picture this morning out in the park. I have no idea what it is – it’s almost heather-like. It’s in Lambrok Meadow by the stream near where there is a ford across into the Church Lane field.

This is red bartsia (Odontites vernus), a very interesting wildflower species. It belongs to the Orobanchaceae family, a group of plants that are almost all parasitic to some degree. Red bartsia, while its reddish leaves contain some chlorophyll and it is able to photosynthesise, also parasitises grass, extracting nutrients from its roots.

Its flowers are popular with late season nectar feeders, particularly carder bees and wasps. In fact, it is the sole food source for one particular solitary bee, Melitta tricincta or the red bartsia bee.

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