Melampyrum lineare (Cow Wheat)

Plant Info
Also known as: Narrow-leaf Cow-wheat, American Cow Wheat
Family:Orobanchaceae (Broomrape)
Life cycle:annual
Habitat:part shade, shade; woods, bogs
Bloom season:June - August
Plant height:6 to 16 inches
Wetland Indicator Status:GP: none MW: FAC NCNE: FACU
MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):Minnesota county distribution map
National distribution (click map to enlarge):National distribution map

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Detailed Information

Flower: Flower shape: irregular Flower shape: tubular

[photo of flowers] Flowers arise from leaf axils in the upper branches of the plant. Individual flowers are tubular, ¼ to ½ inch long. The upper lip is 2-lobed, shorter than the lower lip and curls up, the lower lip is 3-lobed. The tube is creamy white, the lower lip is yellow and the upper lip is white or yellow.

Leaves: Leaf attachment: opposite Leaf type: simple

[photo of stem leaves] Leaves are opposite, linear to lance-shaped, up to 2½ inches long, tapering to a pointed tip with little or no leaf stalk. Leaves of var. lineare are less than ¼ inch wide, those of var. americanum are up to 1/3 inch wide.

[photo of var. americanum leaves] The leaves just below the flowers at the top of the stem (bracteal leaves) on var. americanum have 2 to 6 large pointed teeth near the base. Those on var. lineare are toothless or nearly so. Stems are slender, obscurely 4-sided and minutely hairy.


Cow Wheat tends to grow in clumps as seed does not fall far from the mother plant. It is fairly common in woods and forests in the more northern parts of the state, but is easily missed due to its small stature and small, non-showy flowers. That doesn't make it any less interesting or beautiful. When you are out there, do look down at your feet once in a while. You never know what you might find.

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More photos

Photos by K. Chayka taken in Cass County. Photos by Peter M. Dziuk taken at Savannah Portage State Park.


Have you seen this plant in Minnesota, or have any other comments about it?

Posted by: Ruth Anne - Cook County
on: 2011-07-25 17:33:12

This one is, indeed, easy to miss. But I can't help but be amused when I focus my camera on its creamy petals on the transition zones between shore and forest on Lake Superior.

Posted by: Erika Crisman - Chaska, not far from from Hway 41 below Crown of Glory
on: 2020-08-17 02:32:08

The first wild flower my biology teacher in Germany pointed out on a hike several decades ago was Wald-Wachtelweizen = Melampyrum sylvaticum. You don't mention it in your list. I did not know that Wiesen-Wachtelweizen (Cow Wheat) with longer blossoms does exist, found that out last week while researching. A few years ago, when I found Birdsfoot tre-foil for the first time near Chaska (now it's growing here in masses), I thought it was Melampyrum sylvaticum, had to get educated. I was thrilled last week to find a tiny stand of the real "small cow-wheat" for the first time here. I've lived in Chaska since 1970, found it last week, a few blossoms are in a tiny vase near my kitchen sink.

Posted by: K. Chayka
on: 2020-08-17 07:16:56

Erika, Melampyrum sylvaticum is a European species not known to be in North America. The native M. lineare is also not known to grow naturally as far south as the Twin Cities area. What you found is probably something else. Post a photo or two on the Minnesota Wildflowers Facebook page if you'd like confirmation.

Posted by: Erika Crisman - Carver County, Chaska
on: 2020-08-17 17:52:16

Today I am totally convinced the plant I found is a type of Melampyrum, looks like M. sylvaticum I was pointed out after WWII in Germany by my teacher.I just measured the blossoms, they are after 3 days in a vase betw.15-20 mm, probably not M. sylvaticum but M. pratense or a subspecies of M. lineare. I will send photos to Stan Tekiela. He answered this morning he thinks the plant escaped into the wild.

Posted by: K. Chayka
on: 2020-08-19 15:59:55

Erika, your photos show you have a common weed, Linaria vulgaris, commonly known as butter and eggs. It's not related to cow wheat.

Posted by: Brett W. - Lake County
on: 2021-07-31 19:10:24

First time seeing thi plant. Blooming along trail in George Crosby Manitou State Park July 20.

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