It’s called Lathraea clandestina. Despite its striking colour, it is usually well hidden under trees, hence the attribute “clandestine“. It’s native from Belgium, France, Northern Spain & Italy but has been introduced in the UK as a garden plant.
What’s so special about this plant? It’s one of the true parasites : Lathraea has to suck nutrients from its hosts (usually willow or alder, but not always!) because it lacks chlorophyll and can’t photosynthesize. Its underground stem bears yellow scale-like leaves resembling little teeth, hence the common name Toothwort.
Don’t you find it really pretty? 😉
I’ve spotted this one in le Jardin Massart (my ex-university garden), a very nice park unknown to many (maybe because it’s closed on week-ends 😦 ) but home to several rare plant and animal species. It encompasses a natural wetland, an arboretum, an orchard, and several themed gardens (honey plants, plant systematics, medicinal plants..). Ready for a little visit?
I was surprised to see Fritillaria meleagris (Snake’s Head Fritillary) delicate flowers (it’s considered extinct in Belgium, so these are most likely introduced) and Chrysosplenium oppositifolium (Opposite-leaved Golden Saxifrage) with its peculiar yellow-green flower heads.
Another sweet encounter : Leucojum aestivum (Summer Snowflake), taller than the Spring Snowflake (Leucojum vernum). Not an usual sighting in Brussels : Corydalis solida (a kind of Fumewort), with its characteristic tube-shaped flowers.
In the marshy zone, it’s the perfect time to see Caltha palustris (Kingcup) flowers (notice how close it looks to the Lesser Celandine, also flowering at the moment…it belongs to the same family, Ranunculaceae). I was also surprised to discover wild Hippuris vulgaris (Common Mare’s Tail). I have a few planted in my garden pond, but this native plant is considered critically endangered in Wallonia.
Damp soils are also favoured by the Cuckoo Flower (Cardamine pratensis), which is edible, and the Great Horsetail (Equisetum telmateia), a primitive plant reproducing by spores instead of seeds. What you see here is a strobilus, a bizarre non-photosynthetic cone-like structure bearing the spores.
With some many flowers blooming, insects have a lot of pollination work to do! Check out this bee fly (Bombyliidae), a hairy fly resembling…a bee. Bombyliidae bear a long proboscis, which helps them to feed on the nectar of tubular flowers.
I also met metallic blue beetles which were mating everywhere (Chrysomelidae, leaf beetles). Quite a showy colour, probably a case of aposematism (insects “warn” their predators that they are toxic by displaying bright colours).