Pheasant's eye (Adonis annua)

Pheasant's eye with flower and fruit
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Pheasant's eye fact file

Pheasant's eye description

GenusAdonis (1)

The beautiful pheasant's eye has feathery leaves and produces attractive scarlet coloured flowers, similar in appearance to anemones (4). The arrangement of the seeds resembles a loganberry (5). The Latin name Adonis is said to remember the young Adonis who was killed by a wild boar; this flower supposedly sprang up from the ground where his blood fell (6). Pheasants have red eyes, and the common name refers to this fact (6). Local names include 'Jack in the green', 'love lies bleeding' and 'rose-a-ruby' (6).

Height: 10-40 cm (2)

Pheasant's eye biology

This winter annual germinates towards the end of autumn and flowers in June and July (3). Very few seeds are produced by each plant, and their large size and heaviness restricts the colonisation of new areas. It is likely that the seeds are able to lie dormant for many years in the soil until conditions become suitable again, as the plant has re-appeared after clearings are created in woodlands (3).


Pheasant's eye range

This species is thought to be an ancient introduction to Great Britain, and was once such a common feature in southern England that it was sold on Covent Garden Market as 'red Morocco' in the eighteenth century (4), but since 1987 it has been recorded at just 18 sites, and is now restricted to southern and south-east England. Previously it reached as far north as Leicestershire and Lincolnshire (3). The European range centres on the Mediterranean region and reaches Iran and North Africa (3).

You can view distribution information for this species at the National Biodiversity Network Atlas.

Pheasant's eye habitat

Occurs in cultivated land, most often in cornfields, and has more recently become associated with field margins and corners, which provide refuges from intense herbicide and fertiliser applications (3), particularly on thin chalky and limestone soils (7).


Pheasant's eye status

Vulnerable in Great Britain (3).


Pheasant's eye threats

The slow decline that began after 1880 has been attributed to improved methods of seed cleaning, which removed the seeds of pheasant's eye from the cereal crop. Climatic changes may also have been responsible. The more recent severe decline was caused by agricultural intensification such as the use of herbicides and nitrogenous fertilisers. Furthermore, sowing cereal crops in autumn may hinder the germination of this species (3).


Pheasant's eye conservation

Unfortunately, very little direct conservation action has so far been targeted at this beautiful wild flower. It may benefit from various agri-environment schemes, which encourage farmers to use more environmentally-friendly, sensitive methods (8).

There may be further information about this species available via the National Biodiversity Network Atlas.

Find out more

An action plan for cereal field margins, a major habitat of this species, is available at:



Information authenticated by Plantlife, the wild plant conservation charity:



Agri-environment schemes
These schemes allow the government to compensate farmers for using methods that benefit the environment. The two main initiatives in the UK are the Countryside Stewardship Scheme and Environmentally Sensitive Areas. Since October 2000 these have formed part of the England Rural Development Programme (EDRP), administered by DEFRA, the Department of Environment Food and Rural Affairs. See for more on these initiatives.
Lives or grows for just one year.
Establish a colony (group of organisms living together).


  1. National Biodiversity Network Species Dictionary ( July 2002)
  2. Grey-Wilson, C. (1994) Eyewitness Handbooks: Wild Flowers of Britain and Northwest Europe. Dorling Kindersley, London
  3. Wigginton, M. J. (1999) British Red Data Books 1; Vascular Plants. 3rd Edition. Mabey, R. (1996) Flora Britannica. Sinclair-Stevenson, London.
  4. Mabey, R. (1996) Flora Britannica. Sinclair-Stevenson, London.
  5. Grigson, G. (1996) The Englishman's Flora. Helicon Publishing Ltd. Oxford.
  6. Cobham Brewer, E. (1898) Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. (March 2002):
  7. Byfield, A. (2003) Plantlife. Pers. comm.
  8. DEFRA : England Rural Development Programme (Feb 2003):

Image credit

Pheasant's eye with flower and fruit  
Pheasant's eye with flower and fruit

© Bob Gibbons / Natural Image

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