Lythrum salicaria, or purple loosestrife, is a flowering plant belonging to the family Lythraceae. It should not be confused with other plants sharing the name loosestrife that are members of the family Primulaceae. Other names include spiked loosestrife and purple lythrum.
Lythrum salicaria is a herbaceous perennial plant, that can grow 1ń2 m tall, forming clonal colonies 1.5 m or more in width with numerous erect stems growing from a single woody root mass. The stems are reddish-purple or red to purple and square in cross-section. The leaves are lanceolate, 3ń10 cm long and 5ń15 mm broad, downy and sessile, and arranged opposite or in whorls of three.
The flowers are reddish purple, 10ń20 mm diameter, with six petals (occasionally five) and 12 stamens, and are clustered tightly in the axils of bracts or leaves; there are three different flower types, with the stamens and style of different lengths, short, medium or long; each flower type can only be pollinated by one of the other types, not the same type, thus ensuring cross-pollination between different plants. The flowers are visited by many types of insects, and can be characterized by a generalized pollination syndrome.
The fruit is a small 3ń4 mm capsule containing numerous minute seeds. Flowering lasts throughout the summer. When the seeds are mature, the leaves often turn bright red through dehydration in early autumn; the red colour may last for almost two weeks. The dead stalks from previous growing seasons are brown.
L. salicaria is very variable in leaf shape and degree of hairiness, and a number of subspecies and varieties have been described, but it is now generally regarded as monotypic with none of these variants being considered of botanical significance. The species Lythrum intermedium Ledeb. ex Colla is also now considered synonymous.
Found in ditches, wet meadows and marshes and along sides of lakes.
The flowers are pollinated by long-tongued insects, including bees and butterflies.
A number of insects use Lythrum salicaria as a food resource.
The black-margined loosestrife beetle Galerucella calmariensis is a brown beetle with a black line on its thorax. The adult feeds on the leaves of the plant, producing characteristic round holes. Its larvae destroy tender leaf buds and strip the tissue from the leaves. The golden loosestrife beetle Galerucella pusilla is nearly identical to G. calmariensis, but usually lacks the black thoracic line. Its feeding habits are also quite similar to the other leaf beetle.
The loosestrife root weevil Hylobius transversovittatus is a large red nocturnal weevil, which spends its nights feeding on leaves and leaf buds. The larvae emerge from their eggs and immediately burrow into the root of the plant, which they feed on continuously for over a year. This root damage stunts the plant's growth and ability to create seeds. If several larvae inhabit the same root, the plant can be killed.
The loosestrife flower weevil Nanophyes marmoratus is a tiny weevil which lays a single egg in each flower. When the larvae emerge they eat the flowers' ovaries, and the plant is unable to create seeds. The larvae usually proceed to hollow out the flower buds and use them as safe places to pupate.
Caterpillars of the engrailed moth (Ectropis crepuscularia), a polyphagous geometer moth, also feed on purple loosestrife.