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Antirrhinum majus L. 1753
pronounced: an-TEE-ry-num MAY-juss
(Plantaginaceae – the plantain family. Formerly included in Scrophulariaceae)
common name: Snapdragon
The name Antirrhinum comes to us from classical times, where αντιρρινον (antirrhinon) was the Greeks’ name for the plant now known as Antirrhinum orontium, the lesser snapdragon or Weasel’s Snout, from the hairy green fruit which was thought to resemble the nose of that animal. That word in turn came from αντι (anti), which usually means ‘opposite’, but can also mean ‘like’, and 'ρις (rhis), whose possessive case is 'ρινος (rhinos), a nose – like a nose. Majus is from the Latin maior, larger. The common name ‘snapdragon’ is from the flowers’ reaction to having their throats squeezed, which causes the mouths of the flowers to snap open – a favourite game with many small children. However, care should be exercised when allowing children to play with this plant: all parts of the plant, including the flowers and seeds, are toxic if ingested.
Antirrhinum majus is an herbaceous perennial plant, often treated by gardeners as an annual, that grows usually to 50 – 100 cm tall. The leaves are spirally arranged, broadly lanceolate, 1 – 7 cm long and 2 – 2.5 cm broad. The flowers are produced on a tall spike, bilaterally symmetrical, with 2 ‘lips’ closing the corolla tube; wild plants have pink to purple flowers, often with yellow lips. Each flower is 3 – 4 cm in length, and tall varieties can carry up to 15 flowers on a stem. The flower spike opens from the bottom up. The fruit is an ovoid capsule a little over 1 cm in diameter, containing numerous small seeds. The plants are pollinated by bumblebees; the flowers close over the insects when they enter, and deposit pollen on their bodies.
There are 5 subspecies:
• ssp. majus from southern France and north-east Spain;
• ssp. cirrhigerum from southern Portugal and south-west Spain;
• ssp. linkianum from western Portugal;
• ssp. litigiosum from south-east Spain; and
• ssp. tortuosum from throughout the species’ range.
Numerous cultivars are available, including plants with lavender, orange, pink, yellow or white flowers, and also plants with peloric flowers, where the normal flowering spike is topped with a single large symmetrical flower.
The plant often escapes from cultivation, and naturalized populations occur widely in Europe north of the native range, and elsewhere in temperate regions.
In Asia the snapdragon is usually called ‘Rabbit’s Lips’, and in Holland it is known as ‘Lion’s Lips’.
This is a food plant for the caterpillars of several species of Lepidoptera, including:
• the Blue Argus or Blue Pansy Junonia orithya,
• the Australian Native Budworm Helicoverpa punctigera, and
• the moth Stenoptilodes taprobanes.
Photographs taken 2010, 2011, Picnic Bay
Page last updated 15th July 2018