A collaboration of coast and countryside organisations on The Lizard Peninsula

Bog AsphodelThis bright plant of heathland is putting on an amazing display this year.
Photo: Steve Townsend

BOG ASPHODEL

Scientific name: Narthecium ossifragum

Other common names: Bone-breaker

What to look for:

Family: Liliaceae (Lily family).
Flowers: Yellow, star-shaped flowers with six perianth (outer) segments and orange anthers and woolly looking filaments (part of the stamen).
Leaves: Leaves are mainly at the plant base, curved, and up to 20 cm long; some shorter leaves on the stem.
Height: Up to 10 to 40 cm.
Where: Damp heathland.
When: July to September.
Habit: Creeping, upright.

Bog AsphodelThe vivid yellow, starry flowers of Bog Asphodel with their fiery orange-tipped stamens brighten up heathland in the summer months. Come the autumn fruiting period, the plant changes to a predominantly tawny orange, remaining a cheerful sight, even on a murky day.

The flowers are borne in spikes in early to mid-summer, and the narrow leaves are mainly basal. It grows and spreads via rhizomes, and also produces seeds. The plant is self-pollinating – pollen is transferred from the male anthers to the female stigma via rainwater.

Bog Asphodel prefers bogs in calcium-poor heathland, and from this comes its old reputation of causing brittle bones in sheep feeding on the plants. It was in fact the lack of calcium in the fields where the sheep grazed that caused this condition. Even so, this lovely plant still sometimes goes by the name of Bonebreaker.

Did you know…?

…In the west and north of Britain, Bog Asphodel was sometimes used instead of saffron in food, or as a hair-dye.

More information and references:

Bates, R. and Scolding, B., 2002. Wild Flowers of The Lizard. Cornwall County Council, Truro.

Mabey, R., 1997. Flora Britannica. Chatto & Windus, London.

Rose, F. and O’Reilly, C., 2006. The Wild Flower Key, 2nd edition. Frederick Warne, London.

Websites:

Online Atlas of the British and Irish Flora

The Wildlife Trusts

Bog Asphodel

 

Published: July 2019
Author: Amanda Scott
Photos: Steve Townsend

Find out about other plants you can see on the Lizard.