Toadflax, which in French is called Linaire commune, is flowering well this month and you will often see it growing by the roadside. The photos I have taken for this blog came from some plants that were growing up through a hedge and as a result the plants had reached a height of about 200cm which is quite tall. Often they are between 50 to 100 cm tall. It is related to the garden flower Antirrhinum which has the ‘bunny’ shaped flowers which open when you squeeze them. The point behind this shape of flower is that it takes quite a strong insect like a bumble bee to push between the upper and lower lips of the flower in order to enter it, thus gaining access to the nectar within……. ‘Do you have a nectar card?’ …. ‘NO, leave me alone. I do not wish to be sucked into your organisation’….. Sorry I’m off on a rant again. Anyway the large bees gain entry and in so doing they get covered with pollen which they then transfer to the next flower they visit.
It is called Toadflax because it’s leaves are very similar to the leaves of Flax. When Linnaeus gave it it’s scientific name he called it Linaria which is derived from Linum which is Flax. The toad bit probably comes from the acrid bitter milky juice that comes from the plant if you damage it or break it. Toads produce a milky acid tasting liquid from their warts if they are bitten or roughly handled and this is a protection against animals like foxes or dogs that might otherwise eat them.
Toadflax is very widely distributed. It occurs all across Europe, across Siberia and even as far as China. It also extends down into northern Asia. It does prefer a light well-drained alkaline or chalky soil. Where I photographed it there was also some Travellers Joy (or Old Mans Beard) growing. This is a wild clematis which is very indicative of alkaline conditions.
Like most plants it has been used in the past for various things. The yellow flowers have been used as a dye and it has also been used for medicinal purposes. The leaves were cooked up with lard and then the mixture stained to produce a green ointment which was used on piles and also on sores and ulcers. Whether it did any good is debatable - probably a bit of lard without any Toadflax would have been just as good.
The Toadflax Brocade moth caterpillar feeds on the Toadflax plant. I spotted a caterpillar on one of the plants I was photographing. To see what the moth looks like and find out a bit more about it click on this link. http://ukmoths.org.uk/show.php?bf=2223
To identify other flowers from this region click…
To see other photos I have taken click Alamy Photos