Corncockle (Agrostemma githago)

Corncockle flower
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Corncockle fact file

Corncockle description

GenusAgrostemma (1)

This attractive tall cornfield plant has purple flowers which occur singly on the top of long stalks, the leaves are long and pointed and always grow opposite another leaf (3). Before the petals open, they are folded like flags (4). The spiky sepals project out beyond the petals; this feature may have earned the plant the local name of 'puck needles' in Sussex. Other local names include 'crown of the field' in Somerset and 'Popple' in Scotland, a name that dates from the Middle Ages (5).

Height: up to 100 cm (2)

Corncockle biology

This annual plant flowers between May and August (2).


Corncockle range

Distributed throughout Europe but often rare where it occurs (3), possibly native only to the eastern Mediterranean region (2). It was introduced to Britain in grain, has been present since the Iron Age (6), and was once very common (7). At present, the plants is very rare in the UK and Ireland, and is considered nearly extinct as an arable weed, although it occasionally occurs for a brief time where wild flower seed is scattered (8), or when old pastureland is ploughed or disturbed in some other way (4). There is one 'natural' site in Kent where the species occurs in corn in the hundreds (7).

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

Corncockle habitat

An arable weed, particularly in cornfields (3). This species does not survive long in the seed bank unless it is buried very deeply (7).


Corncockle status

Not listed in any major conservation designations.


Corncockle threats

The large, black seeds of the corncockle give an unpleasant taste to bread, and the plant was consequently persecuted as a pest (4). Improvements in farming techniques between the World Wars allowed the seeds to be separated from imported and UK harvested grain (7). With the additional pressure of herbicides this species has been eliminated from the countryside (4).


Corncockle conservation

No conservation action has been targeted at this species.

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

Find out more

See the Plantlife website:



Information authenticated by Plantlife, the wild plant conservation charity:



Lives or grows for just one year.
All of the sepals (floral leaves) of a flower, which form the protective outer layer of a flower bud. (See for a fact sheet on flower structure).
A floral leaf (collectively comprising the calyx of the flower) that forms the protective outer layer of a flower bud. (See for a fact sheet on flower structure).


  1. National Biodiversity Network Species Dictionary ( July 2002)
  2. Press, B. & Gibbons, B. (1993) Wildflowers of Britain and Europe. Photographic field guide. New Holland (Publishers) Ltd. London.
  3. Grey-Wilson, C. (1994) Eyewitness handbooks. Wild Flowers of Britain and Northwest Europe. Dorling Kindersley, London.
  4. Mabey, R. (1996) Flora Britannica. Sinclair-Stevenson, London.
  5. Grigson, G. (1996) The Englishman's Flora. Helicon Publishing Ltd. Oxford.
  6. Preston, C. D., Pearman, D. A. & Dines, T.D. (2002) New Atlas of the Flora of Britain and Ireland. Oxford University Press, London.
  7. Byfield, A. (2003) Plantlife. Pers. comm.
  8. Fitzgerald, R. (2000) Wildlife Reports. British Wildlife, Volume 11 (3): 217.

Image credit

Corncockle flower  
Corncockle flower

© Adrian Davies /

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