Purple Loosestrife (Lythrum Salicaria)
Available as one of the species in Turfonline’s Birds and Bees wildflower matting, Purple Loosestrife is also known as spiked Loosestrife or purple lythrum. Charles Darwin was fascinated by this wildflower, his interest piqued by the plant’s trimorphic flowers (meaning there exists three forms of the flower within the same species).
What does Purple Loosestrife look like?
Though considered as a purple wild flower, the six petalled flowers of the Purple Loosestrife can be more reddish-purple or crimson in colour. A perennial plant and noted on the RHS Perfect for Pollinators Plant List under the summer months, the Purple Loosestrife can grow up to two metres in height, with numerous stems growing out from one single root mass. It has tall, pink flower spikes and long, willowy leaves growing in opposite pairs up the stem. An adult plant can produce an estimated 2.5 to 2.7 million seeds annually.
A native species to Europe, as well as to Asia, north-west Africa and south-east Australia, this moisture-loving wildflower can tolerate a wide range of environmental conditions and can usually be found in wet habitats such as marshes, riverbanks, reed beds and wet meadows. It will perform well in moist soil or where there is a high water table. The plant flowers between June and August and is widespread across the UK, though less common in Scotland. Its foliage tends to redden because of dehydration in the late summer months (its species name is taken from the Greek name for blood – lythron – because of this) and this wildflower grows well in full sun or in partial shade.
A nectar-rich plant that promotes a successful model of biological pest control, Purple Loosestrife attracts many long-tongued insects, such as red-tailed bumblebees, elephant hawk-moths and brimstones, while the leaves provide food for the hawk-moth caterpillar as well as the black-margined loosestrife beetle. Leaving the foliage uncut until spring will encourage insects to hibernate within the plant’s dense foliage.
In herbalism, this wildflower is considered as a safe alternative for all age groups (including babies) as an astringent medicinal herb to help treat diarrhoea, dysentery and Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Research has suggested that the plant is markedly antibacterial and it is used as a natural ointment for ulcers and sores, as a way to soothe bruising, abrasions or irritated skin. It is also thought that using the stems as chewing sticks can prevent bleeding gums caused by gingivitis.