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Common Whitlow Grass

An early flowering spring plant, this tiny, short-lived annual likes dry open grassland, rocks and dunes in the West and East of Scotland, but is scarce in the North and completely absent from the Northern Isles.  

It is a diminutive plant with a basal rosette of lance-shaped leaves 10-15mm long, the rosette itself may only be the size of a large medal, from which the stems shoots upwards. The leaves have odd y-shaped, forked, and sometimes even star-shaped hairs growing on them, as do the sepals. Leaves are mostly smoothed edged, sometimes with one or two teeth.

Tiny flowers grow up the stem in an extending raceme. Each 3-6mm in diameter, the flowers have 4 white petals, some tinged with red, and each petal so deeply notched they could be mistaken for 8.

The ovary develops into a flattened oval seed pod, which splits open along its seam to reveal a silvery inner lining and two rows of seeds.

Flowering whitlow grass is a sign of spring, one of the first to flower after the snows have thawed. Its short lifecycle means it cannot rely on insects, and must self-pollinate.

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