Northern Ireland's Priority Species

Picris echioides – bristly oxtongue


Distribution map

Click here to view an interactive map of the Northern Ireland dataset as currently collated by CEDaR.
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Picris echioides L., (L.) Gaertn.
Family: Asteraceae

An old introduction known only from County Antrim in the area between the north tip of Islandmagee and Cloghan Harbour south of White Head — first recorded in the 1860s. Now much reduced in area and confined to two sites — Black Head and Cloghan Harbour. These are the only sites in Northern Ireland but it is known from a number of other sites on the eastern and southern coast of Ireland.

In brief

  • Known now from only two sites in the Black Head/White Head area within Northern Ireland
  • Classed as an archaeophyte (ancient introduction) at all its British and Irish sites
  • It has declined and is rare
  • Mainly a southern and eastern plant in Great Britain and continental Europe
  • Found in areas subject to soil disturbance
  • Mainly associated with basic (alkaline) soils close to the coast.

Species description
A biennial plant with an untidy appearance reaching about 60cm in height. The leaves are tongue-shaped and covered with spiny hairs. Flower heads are small and yellow.

Life cycle
The plant is a biennial, the seeds germinating to produce a rosette in the first growing season, followed by the upright flowering stems in the second season. Survival of the plant is dependent on a large seed ‘bank’ lying dormant in the soil. Disturbance of the soil encourages germination of this dormant seed. The seeds are probably capable of lying dormant for many years.

Similar species
There are no similar species found in the area where this plant grows in Northern Ireland.

How to see this species
Most of the recent reports are from beside the coastal path just south of Black Head, County Antrim, but it appeared in huge quantity in 1991 on disturbed earth at Cloghan Harbour. The plant declined in numbers subsequently when soil disturbance ceased.

Current status
The plant has been lost from most of its nineteenth century sites and this may be a result of a decline in tillage and other forms of soil disturbance which encourage growth of this species. It is now confined to two sites in the vicinity of Whitehead. The majority of Irish sites lie within the Republic of Ireland.

Why is this species a priority in Northern Ireland?

  • It has declined in range since the nineteenth century
  • It is rare and restricted to two sites, close together, within Northern Ireland.

The Northern Ireland sites are close to the northern limit of this species.

Threats/Causes of decline
The main reason for decline probably lies in a general reduction in arable farming which favoured survival of this species by encouraging germination of seed. Continued survival is at two sites where there is soil disturbance or unstable ground.

Conservation of this species

Current action

  • The plant is monitored by local field botanists.
  • Proposed objectives/actions

    • The status of bristly ox-tongue will be surveyed and monitored and appropriate conservation action undertaken if required.

    What you can do
    You can assist in the monitoring process by reporting sightings of this plant at its two sites, or any additional sites that you may come across. Report your observations to either the Botanical Society of the British Isles (BSBI) or CEDaR, National Museums Northern Ireland, 153 Bangor Road, Cultra, Co. Down, BT18 0EU. Tel: 028 9039 5256, [at]

    Further information

    Flora of Northern Ireland

    County Antrim Scarce, Rare and Extinct Vascular Plant Register by Stan Beesley, 2006 edited by Julia Nunn and Paul Hackney

    Hackney, P. (1992). Stewart & Corry’s Flora of the North-East of Ireland, 3rd edn. Institute of Irish Studies, Belfast.

    Text written by:
    Paul Hackney