At first sight there seems little of note about the red bartsia (Odontites vernus), it is a rather plain almost featureless flower. It is certainly reddish in colour all over rather than green although there may be a hint of green in the leaves. This lack of green colouring, usually brought about by the presence of chlorophyll provides, a key as to the background of this plant. Red bartsia is a member of the Orobanche or broomrape family and, as a result, is parasitic on other plants, in this case on grasses. It is actually partially parasitic and that is why there is that hint of green about the leaves.
This plant shares some other features with its cousins in this family; the lobed flower form on one side of the stem which is common in this group. It is a fairly small plant not usually much more than six inches tall and it nearly always occurs in large colonies in grassy places, usually where the grass is quite thinly distributed, so that its seeds can set easily. It is an annual and so seeding is very important to it. It grows best in dry, sunny places and it is pollinated by bees and small wasp species.
It not uncommon in Dorset and can be found on both acid and chalky soils.Red Bartsia: the grass is greener.