Cow Wheat Native Woodland Plant

A delicate looking plant that blooms in the woodlands during the first half of July is called Cow Wheat, Melampyrum lineare. It’s a member of the Figwort or Snapdragon family, Scrophulariaceae.

Singular stem branches into several stems with opposite leaves.
Singular stem branches into several stems with opposite leaves. Photo taken 4 July 2011.

The opposite leaves are lance-shaped, entire, smooth and 2 to 3 inches long near the base of the plant. Leaves near the stem tips are shorter and have long, pointed projections at their bases.

(Click on any photo to see a larger image.)

Upper leaves near the white and yellow flowers have pointed projections at their bases.
Upper leaves near the white and yellow flowers have pointed projections at their bases. Photo taken 4 July 2011.

Flowers rise on short stalks in the leaf axils near the stem tips. Tubular, two lipped flowers are white and yellow. The upper lip is two-parted and white. The lower lip is three-parted and yellow. The lips are joined into a tubular flower that appear to be white on the outside and yellow on the inside, or tipped with yellow. The whole flower is about half an inch long.

Apparently, there are no edible nor medicinal qualities to cow-wheat. The Peterson Guide to Wildflowers describes it as a “smooth, parasitic plant”, but did not indicate what it parasitizes. The roots of trees, I suppose.

In Pennsylvania you’ll probably only see this plant in the mountains as it is native from Canada south to northern Wisconsin, northern Minnesota, northern New England and eastern Maine. The several cow-wheat plants observed here were growing on a mountain ridge in south-central PA.

2 thoughts on “Cow Wheat Native Woodland Plant

  1. I have discovered a blue variety of Cow Wheat with a white mouth and a darkish eye spot above the mouth.

  2. Hello Hal,

    I looked at your large volume of Canadian flowers, but I did not see the blue Cow Wheat. Can you post a picture there for us to look at?

    Thanks! Sounds interesting!

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