Common Fumitory

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What is the Common Fumitory?

Also known as Beggary and God’s Fingers and Thumbs, this is a greyish-green leaved plant with elongated, crimson-tipped pinkish-purple flowers about 1 cm long with a distinctive spur that appear from April to October in well-managed arable margins. It has a scrambling growth habit that can be quite dense with the spur giving the flower a ‘heel’ type of feature with the flower stalk appearing to join part way along the flowerhead. There can be from 20 -60 flowers on each on each stem.

Historically, it has been used for medicinal purposes and was used to treat conjunctivitis and skin diseases and to cleanse the kidneys. However, it also has the potential to be poisonous.

It is also a source of fumaric acid (along with many other fruits and vegetables) which is used as a food additive, mainly as an acidity regulator or flavouring agent.

Why is the Common Fumitory important to the Surrey Hills?

It favours well-drained, disturbed and bare soils and can be found in arable fields where, in common with many other arable plants, is most likely to be found around the edges and in the corners of the cropped area. It can also be found on waste ground in the wider countryside.

Common Fumitory is not considered to be a vulnerable species and can be found on both chalky and sandy soils, so could be found across the range of soil types within the Surrey Hills AONB.

What habitat does the Common Fumitory like?


Arable is currently is one of the most intensively managed land uses and covers a multitude of crops from the most basic commodity products such as wheat, oilseed rape, sugar beet and potatoes to more specialist crops such as linseed and asparagus. Some crops are annual while others, particularly salad crops, can yield two or three crops each year on the same piece of land.

What can be done to benefit the Common Fumitory?

Good management and habitat creation opportunities for arable plants include:
  • Adopting low-input cereal options in agri-environment schemes.
  • Adopting cultivated margin options in agri-environment schemes.
  • Arable plants will also appear in other agri-environment options that are cultivated annually such as wild bird mix, skylark plots, nesting plots for lapwing and stone curlew.
  • Considering the reintroduction of spring-sown crops into the crop rotation.
  • Considering leaving unsprayed and unfertilised plots in cereal crops, possibly in areas of short work that are often difficult to spray and fertilise accurately.


Creating and managing areas for the Common Fumitory will help deliver the following benefits to communities:
  • Clean water
  • Clean air
  • Protection from and mitigation of environmental hazards
  • Mitigation of and adaptation to climate change
  • Thriving plants and wildlife
  • Beauty, heritage and engagement

These illustrations are by an artist taking part in a programme delivered by Watts Gallery Trust and funded by the Michael Varah Memorial Fund. This series of 30 Surrey Hills Indicator Species were commissioned by Surrey Hills Society and funded by Surrey Hills Trust Fund as part of the Making Space for Nature Exhibition.