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Thymus polytrichus

Mint / Dead-Nettle Family [Labiatae / Lamiaceae]  

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11th June 2004, Greenside Mines, Glenridding. Photo: © RWD
A low prostrate mat-forming plant of many limestone hills or heathy places.

11th June 2004, Greenside Mines, Glenridding. Photo: © RWD
The overall impression is a pink/lilac and purple/red carpet, interspersed by small green leaves (top right).

9th June 2006, Greenside Mines, Glenridding. Photo: © RWD
The leaves are small, dark-green and oval in shape, and either glabrous or slightly hairy. There is a mat of rooting but non-flowering stems bearing oval leaves, and another mat of flowering stems.

1st July 2005, Hollow Gill Bridge, Illgill Head, Wasdale. Photo: © RWD
The outer flowers in a bunch open up first, leaving the inner ones showing as purple boxing gloves within a rim of dark purple-red sepal teeth.

7th Sept 2012, Green Scar, Marsett, Hawes. Photo: © RWD
Not often seen from the side like this unless the plant is pulled apart. There are two long sepal teeth, often bent back as seen in the un-opened flower-bud lower left, and three shorter sepal teeth. The sepal teeth often turn dark purple-red. Any hairs on the stem usually occur on only two opposite sides of the square stem.

7th Sept 2012, Green Scar, Marsett, Hawes. Photo: © RWD
Normally counted as just two petals, but the lower lip is by far the largest and is deeply lobed into what then appear to be three petals. The other petal is much shorter and with a slight nick as to appear as two petals. There are four stamens with white-tipped purple anthers (although often only a single and longer white stigma is visible). [Perhaps there are separate male and female flowers??]. The three shorter sepal teeth can be seen underneath the shorter petal.

GALLED by a MITE (Aceria thomasi)

 Galls and Rusts Menu

22nd June 2009, Trowbridge, Silverdale, Lancs. Photo: © RWD
Wild Thyme is commonly galled in summer by the gall mite Aceria thomasi, which causes the upper leaves to ball up into a hairy whitish tight-knit ball of leaves about a centimetre across.

22nd June 2009, Trowbridge, Silverdale, Lancs. Photo: © RWD
Tinges of purple show through the long white hairs amongst which the mites live.

Some similarities to : Selfheal (when flower heads viewed hastily from above) but wild thyme has flowers that are much more mauve than the dark-blue of Selfheal.

Easily mistaken for : Breckland Thyme (Thymus serpyllum) but that is quite rare and grows only in Breckland, in Norfolk and very few other places.

Not to be confused semantically with Thyme Broomrape, Thyme-leaved Speedwell, Thyme-leaved Sandwort, Basil Thyme, or Thyme-Moss [plants of similar names belonging to differing genera or families]

Could be mistaken for : Garden Thyme (Thymus vulgaris) is a cultivar that grows wild in a few widely scattered places and is larger than Wild Thyme, with larger and grey-green leaves and paler flowers. Large Thyme (Thymus pulegioides) is much taller at up to 25cm and more strongly aromatic than Wild Thyme; has hairs on the two sharper-angled sides of the squarish stems and has flowers in longer heads..

The lilac/pink flowers, in particular the prominent large lip bearing three lobes, has the same general shape (and colour) as that of the flowers of Pyramidal Orchid, but other than that, there can be no mistaking the two. Indeed, it is the three parallel-sided lobes set at about 60° to each other that is one of the identifying features of Wild Thyme.

Wild Thyme is an under-shrub with mats of both non-flowering but rooting stems bearing leaves, and short flowering stems bearing over a dozen flowers each. The outer flowers of each flowering stem open up first, initially leaving a disc of un-opened flower buds in the middle. Un-opened flowers show a deeper purple flower within a beetroot coloured ring of sepal teeth. They will all eventually open.

The plant likes to grow in lowish mountain places especially on lime or chalk, but also grows in dry grassy places and dry heaths and dunes.

There seems to be great confusion over its scientific name, some calling it Thymus praecox, others calling it Thymus serphyllum (the scientific name for Breckland Thyme!, and yet others declaring it to variously be Thymus polytrichus ssp. britannicus, Thymus praecox ssp. brittanicus and Thymus polytrichus ssp. ligusticus. Even Clive Stace is confused. Despite this profusion of scientific names, there are no hybrids of Wild Thyme.


Wild Thyme is a very low plant apt to form carpets partly covering limestone grassland in patches. When crushed between the fingers has an unmistakable smell of Garden Thyme (Thymus vulgaris) due to the presence of thymol, a monoterpene and also to carvacrol, an isomer of thymol. Both are also present in Oregano and in Wild Bergamot, which are also members of the mint family. Both inhibit the growth of bacteria and mould and kill fungal spores. Thymol has been used to control varroa mite in bee colonies.

Wild Thyme can be used instead of garden thyme when cooking.

  Thymus polytrichus  ⇐ Global Aspect ⇒ Lamiaceae  

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Thymus polytrichus

Mint / Dead-Nettle Family [Labiatae / Lamiaceae]  

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