Quick facts

Common name(s): greater stitchwort, adder’s meat, star of Bethlehem, snapdragon, daddy’s shirt buttons, headaches, stinkwort, wedding cakes, milkmaids, brassy buttons

Scientific name: Stellaria holostea

Family: Caryophyllaceae

Origin: native

Flowering season: April to June

Habitat: deciduous woodland, roadside verges, hedgerows

What does greater stitchwort look like?

Greater stitchwort is in the carnation family. It has white flowers and can reach up to 50cm in height.

Leaves: green, thin, stalkless and grass-like

Flowers: five white petals, each of which is split half-way. This often gives the appearance of 10 petals. The flowers are usually 2–3cm in diameter. They have an explosive seed-dispersal mechanism. In late spring, when the seed capsules ripen, they can be heard popping as they noisily fire their seeds.

Not to be confused with: lesser stitchwort (Stellaria graminea), its much smaller relative. Lesser stitchwort’s flowers are just 0.5–1cm in diameter.

Did you know?

Greater stitchwort’s seed capsules make a loud popping sound when ripe, which is why some people call it ‘popguns’ and ‘poppers’.


Where to find greater stitchwort

Greater stitchwort can be found across the UK, with swathes of these flowers appearing along roadside verges, in deciduous woodland and in hedgerows during the spring.

Credit: Richard Becker / Alamy Stock Photo

Value to wildlife

Greater stitchwort is beneficial to many flying insects, including bees and butterflies (like this orange-tip), which are in search of nectar during the spring. It is also the food plant of several moths.

Credit: Ray Wilson / Alamy Stock Photo

Uses of greater stitchwort

This plant was once used as a herbal remedy for a stitch (the pain sometimes felt in the side during exercise), hence the name ‘stitchwort’. It has also been called the ‘poor man’s buttonhole’, presumably because it was once used as a buttonhole.

Did you know?

It is also known as ‘snapdragon’ because its stem snaps easily.

Mythology and symbolism

Some say that if you pick greater stitchwort, you will cause a thunderstorm. In Cornwall it was believed that greater stitchwort was the property of the pixies, and picking it would anger them – often resulting in said pixies enchanting you.