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Corncockle Agrostemma githago


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credit: Bogdan/CCSA

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Alternate name: Common Corncockle

Family: Caryophyllaceae, Carnation view all from this family

Description This slender pink flower of European wheat fields is naturalized across North America.
Habit: introduced annual herb; stems slender, stiffly erect, finely hairy, with few branches.
Height: 1-3 ft (0.3-1 m)
Leaf: opposite, pale green to gray green, narrowly lanceolate, held nearly erect against stem, 2-6 in (5-15 cm) long.
Flower: deep pink to purple-red (rarely white), 5-parted, terminal, 1-2 in (25-50 mm) wide; petals marked 2-3 thin black lines; narrow pointed sepals much longer than petals, joining at base to form 10-ribbed tube.
Fruit: capsule, roughly spherical with a depression on one end, 0.5-1 in (12-25 mm) long.

Warning The seeds of this plant contain poisonous saponins like those of Bouncing Bet (Saponaria officinalis). Bread made from wheat contaminated with seeds of Corn Cockle can poison humans. Sensitivity to a toxin varies with a personís age, weight, physical condition, and individual susceptibility. Children are most vulnerable because of their curiosity and small size. Toxicity can vary in a plant according to season, the plantís different parts, and its stage of growth; and plants can absorb toxic substances, such as herbicides, pesticides, and pollutants from the water, air, and soil.

Flower May to September.

Habitat Dry sites: fields, roadsides, railway lines, waste places, and other disturbed areas; to 6000 ft (1800 m); also cultivated as an ornamental.

Range Native to Europe; introduced, probably with imported wheat, by the early 1800s; now naturalized in Canada from Saskatchewan to Quebec, and throughout the continental U.S., but not reported in Nevada, Utah or Arizona.

Discussion Also known as common corncockle, purple cockle. Up to three varieties are proposed. Considered weedy or invasive in most areas; listed as a weed in Arkansas and South Carolina. All parts of the plant are poisonous. As mechanical screening of wheat and modern herbicides become pervasive, this plant is less often found as a weed of grain fields.