Plant Profiles Common Toadflax

Common toadflax is a perennial flowering weed with attractive yellow flowers. “This showy, erect plant is leafy, with a grass-like habit, smooth and bluish-green below. The leaves are linear-lance-shaped, acute, rather close, not whorled. The stems are numerous, downy, and glandular above. The general shape of the corolla is that of a Snapdragon, with a spur below, and the flowers are large, yellow, with an orange palate, in a raceme, overlapping terminal. The sepals are ovate-lance-shaped, the upper one longest. The corolla is gaping, with the spur parallel to the tube, and blunt, the upper lid bifid, divided in two nearly, to the base,. The anther-lip stalks are white, the anthers yellow. There are traces of a posterior stamen. The seeds are brown or black, rounded, notched at the base, flattened at the margin, winged, and netted.”

Common toadflax’s Latin name is Linaria Vulgaris Mill, while English names for the plant include Butter-and-Eggs, Buttered Haycocks, Chopt Eggs, Chumstaff, Doggies, Dragon-bushes, Eggs-and-bacon, Eggs-and-butter, Eggs-and-collops. Toad, Wild and Yellow ToadFlax, Flax-weed, Gallwort, Larkspur, Lion’s Mouth, Monkey Flower Pattens-and-clogs, Rabbits, Snapdragon, Yellow or Yallet Rod. “The name Snap Dragon is in vogue and explained because the flowers are ‘fashioned like a frog’s mouth, or rather a dragon’smouth; from whence the women have taken the name Snap Dragon.’ Coles says it was called Toadflax ‘because Toads will sometimes shelter themselves amongst the branches of it’. Gallwort was applied because it is bitter, and used against the flowering of the gall in cattel,’ …It was supposed to avert witchcraft. Because it was considered to be associated with the evil one it was called Devil’s Ribbon.”

This plant is found naturally in Northern Europe and Western Asia. It is an introduced species in North America, where it has become a very successful weed. “This plant is not one apparently, though its range to-day is that of the northern plants, being found in the N.Temperate and Arctic Zones in Arctic Europe, and W.Asia.”, and “…is found in great abundance on waste ground, and is especially abundant wherever ballast has been thrown down, as on railway banks, at stations, and in quarries, docks, and similar places. It grows profusely in the south of England on dry, open ground.”

Common toadflax propogates through both flowers and spreading root systems. “Common toadflax flowers from July to October.”, while “Ripe seed is produced from September onwards. There are around 70 winged seeds in each capsule.” These seeds are incredibly durable, and “may persist in soil for several years.” Farmers may accidentally spread it “as a contaminant of crop seed and in baled hay.” “The seeds are oily and can float in water for an extended period.” Nature helps spread some of the seeds, which are winged. “Wind, water, and ants may disperse the seeds, and birds also help by eating them and spreading them in their droppings. Most of the seeds do fall and grow close to the parent plant. “Despite having winged seeds, 80% of common toadflax seeds fall within 0.5m of the parent and the rest within 2m.”

This tap-rooted plant is also able to reproduce vegetatively. “Common toadflax forms clonal patches but has a limited capacity to spread laterally by vegetative means. Regeneration is possible from root fragments as short as 1 cm, and is common from 10 cm fragments. Plants that develop from root fragments exhibit similar tates of early growth as seedlings.”

Common toadflax “is controlled by cutting, hoeing, pulling and removal of the creeping rootstocks during tillage.” Natural enemies to seed production include plant competition, and “predation by insects and this can have a drastic effect on seed numbers.” As toadflax is, as mentioned above, not native to North America but Europe, “Many European insects have been introduced into North America as biocontrol agents for common toadflax.”

In the past, common toadflax was used in traditional medicine. In North America, it “has been used to treat cattle that are unable to ruminate.” Other uses include making yellow dye from the flowers, and the “leaves are thought to have insecticidal properties.” However, these same leaves may be toxic to stock.