Thyme Broomrape

Thyme Broomrape can be spotted along the sea cliffs in early summer. Just south of Kynance Cove is a good place to spot this distinctive plant.
Photo: Amanda Scott

Scientific name: Orobanche alba

Other names: Red Broomrape 

Plants in the Broomrape family (Orobanchaceae) are all parasitic. They therefore have no need of chlorophyll, which is absent in all members of the family, and one of their characteristics is therefore a lack of any green colouring. Another is that their leaves have been reduced to scales.

Thyme Broomrape, which is reddish-yellow in colour with red-coloured flowers from June to July, is a parasite of the roots of Thyme (Thymus polytrichus). On the Lizard, it is usually found on rocky serpentine seacliffs, such as those near to Kynance, although it is not unknown inland on basic rocky outcrops. A highly localised and rare plant in Great Britain, other than southwest England it is found on the coast of northwest Scotland and on limestone rocks in Yorkshire.

An annual, broomrape seed can remain in the soil for a long time. Thyme Broomrape can grow as high as 25 cm.

Did you know…?

…Rabbits are partial to eating Thyme Broomrape.

…If you were wondering why a reddish-coloured plant has the species name of alba (meaning ‘white’), elsewhere in its range across Europe it occurs with a cream colouration.

More information and references:

Rose, F. and O’Reilly, C., 2006. The Wild Flower Key, 2nd edition. Frederick Warne, London.

Published: June 2013
Author: Amanda Scott
Photos: Amanda Scott