Like other members of the Broomrape family, Orobanchaceae, Lousewort is a hemi-parasitic plant, or partially parasitic. It attaches itself to the roots of grasses and ‘shares’ their nutrients. Lousewort (Pediculus meaning parasite) was so named because it was once believed to infest animals in the field with liver-fluke. This has since been disproved – it just happens to flourish in the same places as the fluke parasite. So, an unfortunate name for an innocent plant. It is a fairly common sight in damp heaths, moors, bogs and marshes across Scotland.
It grows low to the ground with many purplish oblong leaves which are divided into several narrow lobes that are irregularly toothed. Each ‘tooth’ ends in a pointed white tip. The leaves are tiny and grow in a messy profusion, with a slightly fleshy, glabrous look. They can appear in all shades from mid-green through to purple.
4 short spikes of 3 to 10 flowers appear among the leaves. The sepal tube appears first, a 5 sided purple pod, from which the petal tube emerges. This can be pink, mauve, red or rarely white. The petal tube splits into 5 lobes, the upper lobes fused, hooded and curved over, and the lower lobes split further along into 3 drooping petals. The petals are fringed with tiny hairs. 4 stamens hide under the upper petal lobe, and 1 long style with a swollen stigma.