Small Alison (Alyssum alyssoides)

Young small Alisons in flower
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Small Alison fact file

Small Alison description

GenusAlyssum (1)

Small Alison produces small, pale yellow flowers, which often become whitish as they fade with age (4). The seeds are reddish-brown in colour. The greyish-green leaves measure between 6 and 30 (occasionally up to 40) millimetres in length, are oblong becoming narrower towards the base, forming a stalk (4). The genus name Alyssum and the common name Alison both originate from the description of a plant called 'alysson' as a cure for hiccups by the First Century AD Greek physician Dioscorides. Other early physicians thought that the plant was able to heal madness and rabies (5).

Stem height: 7 - 30 cm (rarely 50 cm) (2)

Small Alison biology

Small Alison is an annual species. It is a 'winter annual', germinating in the autumn, over-wintering as rosettes, and coming into flower early the next summer. The flowers do not produce nectar, and they are not visited by insects as a result (2). It is probably largely self-pollinated (4).


Small Alison range

Small Alison has been widely recorded in lowland England, and is also occasionally scattered in Scotland, Wales and Ireland (4). It is probably native throughout much of Europe but is introduced in the north. It also occurs as a native eastward to Afghanistan and the Near East and North Africa, and has been widely introduced elsewhere in the world (4).

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

Small Alison habitat

Small Alison is strongly associated with fields, especially clover fields, and to a lesser extent with railways. It has also been recorded from roadsides, waste ground, docks, gravel pits and tracks (4).


Small Alison status

Fully protected in Great Britain by the Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981 (3).


Small Alison threats

This plant began to be frequently recorded from the 1830s onwards, with records peaking at about the turn of the century, and then declining to a general low level with very few recent records; it is only persistent now in one site. The increase in records was probably associated with increasing seed imports from Eastern Europe for the crop rotation farming system, and the decline is probably associated with the introduction of quality control and regulation of agricultural seed sales, which stopped weed seeds being imported with crops. Small Alison is not particularly persistent in Britain, possibly due to sub-optimal climate and/or habitats (6) (7).


Small Alison conservation

This species receives full legal protection under Schedule 8 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981 (3). It is also included in English Nature's Species Recovery Programme.

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

Find out more

For more on the small Alison see:

  • Preston, C.D., Pearman, D.A. and Dines, T.D. (2002) Oxford University Press, London.
  • Botanical Society of the British Isles:



Information authenticated by Tim Rich of the National Museums and Galleries of Wales.



Lives or grows for just one year.
A category used in taxonomy, which is below ‘family’ and above ‘species’. A genus tends to contain species that have characteristics in common. The genus forms the first part of a ‘binomial’ Latin species name; the second part is the specific name.
The beginning of growth, usually following a period of dormancy and in response to favourable conditions. For example, the sprouting of a seedling from a seed.


  1. UNEP-WCMC database (September, 2008)
  2. Stace, C. (1991) The New Flora of the British Isles. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
  3. JNCC (September, 2002)
  4. Karran, A.B. and Rich, T.C.G. (2003) Geographical and temporal distributions of Alyssum alyssoides and Berteroa incana (Brassicaceae) in the British Isles. Watsonia, 24: 499 - 506.
  5. Dictionary of Botanical Epithets (September, 2002)
  6. English Nature. Species Recovery Programme. (September, 2002)
  7. Rich, T.C.G. (1991) Cruciferas of Great Britain and Ireland. BSBI Handbook no. 6. Botanical Society of the British Isles, London.

Image credit

Young small Alisons in flower  
Young small Alisons in flower

© Bob Gibbons / Natural Image

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