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Scrophularia nodosa - Common Figwort

Phylum: Magnoliophyta - Class: Equisetopsida - Order: Lamiales - Family: Scrophulariaceae

Common Figwort, Scrophularia nodosa, closeup of flowers

This unspectacular wildflower is sometimes confused with Deadly Nightshade, but at typically only 8mm across the flowers of Common Figwort are only about a third the size of those of Deadly Nightshade. The stem has a square cross-section, which also helps distinguish it from Deadly Nightshade (whose stems are round).

Figwort is the foodplant of a little greyish beetle known as the Figwort Weevil, Cionus scrophulariae. Its larvae look like tiny slugs, while the pupae are much duller. (This is one of several weevil species that feed on figworts, mulleins and related species.)

Larvae abd pupae of Figwort Weevil

Above: larvae and pupae of the Figwort Weevil. (Picture kindly contributed by Ashley Warner.)

Distribution

Common Figwort is found throughout Britain and Ireland except for the far north.

Common Figwort, Scrophularia nodosa, beside a river

Habitat and Blooming Times

This tall plant of shaded hedgerows and woods prefers damp soil. The first flowers appear in early June, and figworts can be found blooming as late as September in well-shaded places. In the riverside picture above, taken in early June, the dull purple flowers are just opening.

Etymology

The genus was named Scrophularia in the belief that figworts had the power to cure scrofula, a strain of bovine tuberculosis that was particularly prevalent in the 18th century. The specific epithet nodosa is nothing to do with nodding; it comes from Latin and refers to the presence of conspicuous nodes.

Similar species

The unwinged square stems of this plant help to distinguish it from the otherwise very similar Water Figwort, Scrophularia auriculata, which has an overall redder flower. Just as it sounds, the specific epithet nodosa refers to the conspicuous nodes on the stems of this wildflower.

These specimens were photographed in Wales in July.


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