May 27, 2017

Rattling Around

Rhinanthus minor - Little yellow rattle

Rhinanthus minor – Little yellow rattle | Photo courtesy of Glen Mittelhauser/Maine Natural History Observatory

A fascinating plant is Rhinanthus minor, a member of the broomrape (Orobanchaceae) family where nearly all the genera are parasitic. This includes R. minor, also known as little yellow rattle or cockscomb. It is a hemiparasite, which Go Botany describes as a “partially parasitic plant that steals nutrients from the roots of other plants using specialized roots called haustoria, while still getting nutrients the normal way, through photosynthesis.” Native to Europe and Western Asia, the plant has a range of hosts, according to Go Botany, with connections to plants of seven different species. Its purpose is a curious one as it helps provide biodiversity in hay meadows as it “restricts grass growth,” which in turn allows other species to thrive. As for that rattling, it comes from the seeds that rattle around in the capsule after fruiting.

Wild Wednesday is a collaboration of Garden Maine and Glen Mittelhauser of the nonprofit Maine Natural History Observatory, www.mainenaturalhistory.org.