Ivy-leaved toadflax Cymbalaria muralis

Status Green - Least concern
Best Time to See April, May, June, July, August, September, October
Colour Blue, Purple
Habitat

“Cymbalaria … runneth and spreadeth on the ground and clymeth and hangeth on walls even as Ivie or Chickweed doth, the branches are verie small round and smooth, limmer and pliant” - John Goodyer, 17th century botanist

Description

The little purple snapdragon flowers of the ivy-leaved toadflax are seen scrambling over walls in towns and country, its roots creeping into nooks and crannies in the mortar.

How to spot it

A trailing plant with a reddish tinge to the stem and leaves. The purple flowers are like miniature snapdragons, with a yellow central patch, and the leaves are ivy-shaped.

Where it grows

In walls, pavements, rocky, stony places and even on shingle beaches throughout the British Isles, except northern Scotland, where it is rarely seen.

Best time to see

In flower from April to October.

How's it doing?

Although not a native species to the UK it is now considered naturalised, having been established here for several hundred years. Its widespread distribution is now stable.

Did you know?

  • It is said to have been originally introduced into England via seeds having been brought in some marble sculptures from Italy to Oxford. It has established itself on the walls of colleges and gardens in Oxford in such abundance as to give it the name "Oxford-weed".
  • Ivy-leaved toadflax is thought to have been introduced into gardens prior to the 17th century and records from the wild date from 1640. Its small, purple and yellow snapdragons made it very popular as an ornamental plant between the 17th and 19th centuries when many walled gardens were created which it could exploit.
  • The leaves are edible and have a flavour similar to watercress.
  • The Latin name cymbalaria relates to the shape of the leaves, which were thought to resemble cymbals.
  • It has a mechanism which makes it easy for the plant to colonise walls vertically upwards. When in bloom, the flower-stalks bend towards the light, whilst once the flowers are finished, the seed-heads bend the other way, so that seeds are more likely to be shed into cracks in the supporting stones.
  • Other common names include Mother of thousands, Travelling sailor, and Rabbit-flower.