Narthecium ossifragum

Narthecium ossifragum, commonly known as bog asphodel,[1] Lancashire asphodel or bastard asphodel,[2] is a plant of Western Europe, found on wet, boggy moorlands up to about 1000 m in elevation. It produces spikes of bright yellow flowers in summer. The bright orange fruits have been used as a colourant to replace saffron by Shetland Islanders.[3] Despite the plant's English name, it is not particularly closely related to the true asphodels. In addition to other forms of pollination, this plant is adapted to rain-pollination.[4]

Narthecium ossifragum
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Scientific classification edit
Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Tracheophytes
Clade: Angiosperms
Clade: Monocots
Order: Dioscoreales
Family: Nartheciaceae
Genus: Narthecium
N. ossifragum
Binomial name
Narthecium ossifragum

The Latin specific name means "bone-breaker", and refers to a traditional belief that eating the plant caused sheep to develop brittle bones. The probable origin of this story is that sheep eating a calcium-poor diet are likely to develop bone weakness, and N. ossifragum favours acidic low-calcium soils.[3]

The plant can cause photosensitisation, a serious skin condition of sheep called alveld, "elf fire", in Norway. It can be relieved by moving stock into shade. Not all stands of the plant are toxic, and the toxicity may be the side effect of the plant's response to a fungal infection.[5][6][7]

It can be found in purple moor grass and rush pastures.[2]

It is a tufted, hairless perennial. The leaves are narrow.[8]




  1. ^ "BSBI List 2007". Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland. Archived from the original (xls) on 2014-10-23. Retrieved 2014-10-17.
  2. ^ a b "Pacific Bulb Society | Narthecium". Retrieved 2017-02-23.
  3. ^ a b Richard Mabey Flora Britannica
  4. ^ Hagerup, O. 1950. Rain-pollination. I kommission hos E. Munksgaard. Retrieved 26 May 2018.
  5. ^ Handbook of Plant and Fungal Toxicants by J. P. Felix D'Mello
  6. ^ George B. B. Mitchell, 'Non-parasitic skin diseases of sheep' In Pract., Vol. 10, Issue 2, 69-73, March 1, 1988
  7. ^ Arne Flåøyen, 'Studies on the aetiology and pathology of alveld'
  8. ^ Sterry, Paul (2006). Complete British wild flowers. London: Collins. ISBN 978-0-00-720469-4.