Common Toothwort (Lathraea squamaria, bg: obiknovena gorska maika) is a perennial herbaceous plant completely lacking chlorophyll. It can reach a height of 10-20 cm by parasitizing the roots of various trees. Its parasitic lifestyle determines the lack of green parts and developed leaves. Due to the absence of chlorophyll, the whole plant is tinged in dull pink-red colour. Short colourless scales cover the over ground visible flowering stem as well as all underground branches of the species.
From the genus Lathraea two species are native to Bulgaria: Common Toothwort (Lathraea squamaria) and Rhodope Toothwort (Lathraea rhodopaea, bg: rodopska gorska maika). The Common Toothwort is used in folk medicine and Rhodope Toothwort is a Balkan endemic species, protected under the Bulgarian Biological Diversity Act.
The Latin name of genus Lathraea - comes from the Greek word lathraios meaning "hidden" connected with the hidden, underground development of this genus’ species due to their parasitic nature preying on roots. The first (10) years the plant grows as underground rhizomes, then its flower-bearing shoots emerge on surface. The only above-ground parts of Common Toothwort are the flowering stems. The In the base they are covered with colourless scales and in the upper part with spike flowers. The flowers are drooping, turned on one side, gathered in a cluster.
Common Toothwort is a species widespread in Bulgaria. It grows also in the temperate forests of Western Europe to India and Pakistan, prefers moist forests.