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).
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).
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).
All of the sepals (floral leaves) of a flower, which form the protective outer layer of a flower bud. (See http://www.rbgkew.org.uk/ksheets/pdfs/flower.pdf 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 http://www.rbgkew.org.uk/ksheets/pdfs/flower.pdf for a fact sheet on flower structure).
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