Not to be semantically confused with : Rough Cocklebur (Xanthium strumarium) [a plant with similar name belonging to a different Family].
Distinguishing Feature : Shaped like a shuttlecock with five extra-long thin sepals projecting well beyond the boundaries of the petals.
Was once a very common weed of cornfields but now virtually extinct due to herbicides and that the seed of Corncockle does not remain viable for very long when dormant in the soil. Now much more likely to be seen growing in seeds sold and sown as 'wild-flower mixtures'.
The only member of the Agrostemma Genus (at least in the UK).
The shuttlecock shape is reminiscent of that of Goat's-beard but that has eight rather than five extended sepals.
Githagenin (aka Githagin, aka Gypsogenin) is one of a number toxic of triterpene saponins present in Corncockle.
Agrostemmic Acid is another. Together with a non-proteinogenic amino acid,
orcylalanin (2,4-dihydroxy-6-methyl-phenyl-L-alanine - a substituted
phenylalanine or Tyrosine) and a lectin
agrostin make the seeds of Corncockle especially poisonous, but all parts of the plant contain some toxins. Formerly widespread as a weed amongst cereal crops, the seeds of Corncockle presented a particular contaminatory hazard to the harvest. The seeds are lethal in amounts greater than just 5 grams. Symptoms include mucosal irritation, dizziness, vomiting, diarrhoea, respiratory distress, headache, pains in the spine, tachycardia, paralysis coma followed by death. Poisoning of humans and livestock used to be a common occurrence, but after several decades of herbicidal spraying, it is more or less extinct in arable fields.
Alanine is just shown for comparison, it is not reported as being present in Corncockle, but may well be.
The seedlings, like other seedlings, contain both
Both Allantoic Acid, along with Allantoin, are involved in fixing nitrogen in the root nodules of the Pea Family especially in Soybeans, and are transported upwards in the xylem for further use by the plants. The plants use these chemicals in the production of other nitrogenous compounds. It will be seen that the two structures are almost identical, with Allantoin having the right-most group swivelled about and fused into a ring, losing one oxygen atom and two hydrogen atoms, i.e. water, in the process.
Excepting humans, allantoin is a major un-wanted by-product of metabolism in animals that is excreted in urine. It is also a major metabolite in plants, and is also present in
Comfrey. It is artificially manufactured on a grand scale for use in cosmetics as moisturisers and to help the skin shed dead outer skin cells, making the skin feel smooth, all to make the person look younger.
Allantoin is also used as a Vulnerary ointment for treating wounds, so, as such, is not actually a pharmaceutical for internal use.
Water Fern is also capable of fixing atmospheric nitrogen which it accomplishes via a symbiotic relationship with several co-habiting nitrogen-fixing cyanobacteria. Sea Heath (Frankenia laevis) can also fix atmospheric nitrogen via a symbiotic relationship.
Apart from the plants belonging to the Fabaceae family (Legumes) which have the ability to fix nitrogen gas from the atmosphere without the aid of symbiotic bacteria, other plants capable of this feat are:
Californian Cordgrass (Spartina foliosa) (which does not seem to occur in the UK), Sea-Buckthorn (Hippophae rhamnoides), Alder trees (species of Alnus) and species of
Myrica such as Bog Myrtle (Myrica gale). There are quite a few other select plants capable of this feat, but most do not grow in the UK.