Cerastium fontanum Baumg. (C. vulgatum, C. holosteoides)
Perennial Broad-leaved Weeds
Common mouse-ear is a short-lived perennial, native in grassland and in open cultivated and waste ground. It grows on a range of soils but prefers dry sandy, nutrient rich soils with added lime. It is recorded up to 3,600 ft in Britain and has been found in prehistoric deposits. The species consists of a variable complex of subspecies.
Common mouse-ear is a weed of cereals but is commoner on grassland. In a survey of weeds in conventional cereals in central southern England in 1982, common mouse-ear was found in 0.6% of winter wheat fields but not at all in spring or winter barley. In a study of seedbanks in some arable soils in the English midlands sampled in 1972-3, common mouse-ear was recorded in 50% of the fields sampled in Oxfordshire and 6% of those in Warwickshire but never in large numbers. In set-aside land in Scotland, it was one of the most frequent species on unsown fields. It was a common weed in the seedbanks of arable fields in Scotland. In pasture soils in the Netherlands, common mouse-ear was frequent in the sward and in the soil seedbank.
Common mouse-ear can become infected with cucumber mosaic virus which is transmitted by the aphid Myzus persicae. Studies have shown that the virus can also be carried in the seed. In infected plants, 2% of seeds may carry the virus.
Common mouse-ear flowers from April to September. The flowers are self- or insect-pollinated. Seed is shed from June onwards. There are around 40 seeds per dehiscent seed capsule. Seed numbers per plant may reach 6,500.
In the laboratory, seed germination is promoted by light, nitrate and alternating temperatures. In the field, seedling emergence occurs from March to November with small peaks in March-April and August-September. However, emergence can occur throughout the year if conditions are favourable.
The stems are prostrate or erect, the spreading stems sometimes root at the nodes.
Persistence and Spread
Seed is said to remain viable in soil for over 40 years. Common mouse-ear seeds have been recorded in the soil beneath pastures even though the plant may be poorly represented in the vegetation. Seeds broadcast onto the soil surface, ploughed to 20 cm and followed over a 6-year period of cropping with winter or spring wheat had a mean annual decline rate of 35%. The estimated time to 95% decline was 6-9 years. Seed recovered from excavations and dated at more than 90 years old is reported to have germinated.
Common mouse-ear seed has been found as a contaminant of clover and grass seed. Seed has been found in cattle and horse droppings. Apparently-viable seeds have been found in cow manure. Seedlings have been raised from the excreta of various birds. Seeds ingested by earthworms have been recovered in worm casts. The seeds can be carried by flood water.
The weed is kept in check by early-sown cereals and by thorough and deep cultivation. In a comparison of different tillage regimes in winter cereals, common mouse-ear was favoured by reduced cultivations. Laboratory studies indicate that cultivating in darkness would reduce or delay the emergence of common mouse-ear.
In grassland, harrowing and close grazing with sheep are effective control measures. Common mouse-ear is able to emerge and grow rapidly to dominate areas of disturbance. It is not grazed by rabbits.
Updated November 2007.