Yellow Centaury

Delicate Yellow Centaury, which blooms in high summer, only opens its tiny flowers in bright sunshine, so go looking in decent weather. Windmill Farm and the Grochall Track are two good places to find it.
Photo: Amanda Scott

Scientific name: Cicendia filiformis

Other common names: Slender Cicendia

Conservation status: Vascular Plant Red Data Book for Great Britain, Nationally Scarce; UK Biodiversity Action Plan, Priority Species; IUCN, Vulnerable.

There are a group of rare plants found on The Lizard that are associated with the ponds, puddles and muddy trackways that become inundated with water in the winter months but dry out in the summer. Bates and Scolding (2002) light-heartedly refer to these plants as the ‘Puddle Gang’, and Yellow Centaury, a tiny, delicate-looking annual with yellow four-petalled flowers that only open in the sunshine, is one of them. At only between 2 and 10 cm tall, it is easy to miss, especially when closed, but is worth the effort of looking.

A member of the Gentian family (Gentianaceae), it flowers from August to September, but can be found flowering earlier than this on the heathlands of The Lizard in some years. It can have one or a small number of branching slender pinky-green stems, with a few pairs of small leaves. Its distribution in Europe is mainly to the west.

A plant that does not cope well with competition from more vigorous perennials and grasses, it benefits from some disturbance, including low-intensity grazing. Reduction in this, together with general loss of heathland habitat, has had a severe impact on populations and the distribution of Yellow Centaury. The Lizard is one of its only two remaining strongholds, the other being the New Forest.

Did you know…?

…The species name of filiformis is derived from the Latin word for ‘threadlike’, presumably because of the plant’s slender, tiny stems.

…Like many annuals, the seeds of Yellow Centaury can survive in the soil for many years, waiting for suitable conditions to germinate.

More information and references:

Bates, R. and Scolding, B., 2002. Wild Flowers of The Lizard. Cornwall County Council, Cornwall.

Bilton, D.T., McAbendroth, L.C., Nicolet, P., Bedford, A., Rundle, S.D., Foggo, A. and Ramsay, P.M., 2009. Ecology and conservation status of temporary and fluctuating ponds in two areas of southern England. Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems, 19: 134−146.

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

Stace, C., 2010. New Flora of the British Isles, 3rd edition. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Published: July 2013
Author: Amanda Scott
Photos: Amanda Scott