Corncockle Agrostemma githago

Status Red - Endangered & Critically Endangered
Best Time to See May, June, July, August, September
Colour Purple
Habitat Arable, Farmland

'Cuckole hath a longe small lefe, and wyl beare fyve or vi floures of purple colour, as brode as a grote' - Fitzherbert "The Boke of husbandrie" (1523)

A slender pink flower of European wheat fields, the Corncockle was regarded as very common in the 19th century.

Its seeds were harvested and re-sown for the following season, until it began to decrease rapidly, beginning most noticeably in 1952. The plant was seen as a pest by farmers for hundreds of years but is now rarely seen due to the improved seed cleaning techniques and herbicides of modern farming putting it at risk. These days it is only seen occasionally for instance when old pastureland is ploughed, or when it has been sown deliberately in wildflower gardens such as Earlham churchyard in Norwich.

Corncockle is 1 metre tall and covered with fine hairs. It has few branches and they are each tipped with a single deep pink to purple scentless flowers. They are 25 mm to 50 mm across and each petal bears 2 or 3 discontinuous black lines. The leaves are pale green and are 45 mm to 145 mm long. It has been described by Richard Mabey as 'one of the most attractive of cornfield annuals'.

Distribution:

Corncockle originated in Oxfordshire, England in the Iron Age. It is part of the Caryophyllaceae family and is known to occur throughout much of the USA, parts of Canada, Australia and New Zealand. It is now virtually extinct in the wild and is a poisonous plant, despite it previously being used in folk medicines. It has been placed on the waiting list of the Vascular Plant Red Data List for Great Britain since there is a lack of adequate distributional data.

Habitat:

Corncockle can mainly be found in fields, roadsides, railway lines and waste places as it relies on open ground to re-establish itself. Although it can grow on most soils, it does particularly well on free draining sandy loams.

Best time to see:

It is produced in the summer months from May to September.

Did you know?

Corncockle is known locally as Cat's Eyes and Kiss-me-quick. Other interesting common names are Cat's ears, Cockerel, Corn Pink, Crown of the field, Little and Pretty, Poppy and Robin Hood. The name Popple goes back to the Middle Ages. In Sussex it is known as Puck needles (Puck the goblin) referring to the long teeth of the calyx-tube that spreads out between the bright petals.

It was formerly regarded as a menace since it was so abundant, made bread taste bitter and is also poisonous.