Red Bartsia

red bartsiaI couldn’t see much of the flowers of red bartsia, which poke their purplish-red lips out of the calyxes which are arranged facing the same way along the stem. Perhaps of the resemblance flower spike to a row of pointed teeth is why the plant acquired a reputation as a herbal remedy for tootache. Carl Linnaeus gave it the Latin name, Odontites vernaOdontites was a name that Pliny gave to a plant that was said to be good for treating toothache.

Smalltoothcombia Domestica, from Edward Lear's Nonsense Botany.
Smalltoothcombia Domestica, from Edward Lear’s Nonsense Botany.

The racemes (toothbrush-like arrangements) of the flowers led to this familiar weed’s old Yorkshire name of cock’s comb.

Red bartsia is a member of the Figwort family and, like its relative the yellow rattle, it is semi-parasitic on the roots of grasses.

Bartsia was named by Linnaeus in memory of his friend, the German physician and botanist Johann Bartsch who died aged 29 in Suriname in 1738.

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