Melampyrum lineare

Cow Wheat

Cow Wheat, Photo © by Earl J.S. Rook
Cow Wheat
Photo © by Earl J.S. Rook

Flora, fauna, earth, and sky...
The natural history of the northwoods


  • Melampyrum, from the Greek melas (melas), "black" and puros (pyros) "wheat", because the seeds made bread black when mixed with them.
  • lineare, from the Latin linearis, "of or pertaining to lines"; hence "linear", a reference to the shape of the leaf.
  • Common name from said to be derived from an extraordinary notion prevalent in some country districts among the peasantry of the Middle Ages, that the small seeds were capable of being converted into wheat, a supposition probably originating in the sudden appearance of the plants among corn, on land that had been recently cleared of wood.
  • Another reason for the meaning of Melam-pyrum is given in Lindley's Treasury of Botany, i.e. it refers to an ancient belief that the seeds, when mixed with grains of wheat and ground into flour tended to make the bread black.
  • Other common names include Narrow Leaf Cow Wheat, American Cow Wheat


  • Kingdom Plantae, the Plants
    • Division Magnoliophyta, the Angiosperms (flowering plants)
      • Class Magnoliopsida, the Dicotyledons
      • Subclass Asteridae
        • Order Scrophulariales, the Figworts
          • Family Scrophulariaceae, the Figworts
            • Genus Melampyrum, the Cowwheats
  • Taxonomic Serial Number: 33651


  • A ¼, ½, ¾, º, é
  • erect annual forb blooms Jun.-Aug.; plant 3"-16"
  • Leaves linear, paired.
  • Stem thin with several branches. Arrangement and length of branches may give plant a Christmas tree shape.
  • Roots
  • Photo courtesy Wisconsin State Herbarium and Andrew Meeks
  • Flowers near tip of branches; rather inconspicuous, tube-shaped, and mostly yellow-white with tinges of pink-purple. Open from late spring through mid-summer.
    • Sepals
    • Petals
    • Stamens
    • Pistils
    • Ovary superior (within blossom) inferior (below flower)
  • Fruit
  • Seed


  • Identifiable as
  • Distinguished from
  • Field Marks


  • Alaska to Newfoundland,


  • Common in dry woods, especially in openings near the base of trees or shrubs because the plant is a partial root parasite.
  • Boreal Forest; Bracken Grassland; Northern Lowland Forest; Northern Upland Forest; Pine Barrens; Sand Dunes;



  • Trees:
  • Shrubs:
  • Herbs:
  • Ground Covers:
  • Mammals:
  • Birds:




  • Sexually by seed
  • Flowers
  • Assexually by


  • By rhizome division,


  • Hardy to USDA Zone 3 (average minimum annual temperature -40ºF)
  • Cultural Requirements
    • Light:
    • Soil:
    • Water:
    • Spacing:
    • Fertilization:
  • Size 12"-18"W x 12"-18"H
  • Growth rate
  • Good for
  • Cultivars and species available by mail order from specialty suppliers or at local nurseries



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Last Updated on 6 November, 2002