Field Madder

Field Madder
Other names: 

herb sherard, madderlen, spurwort

Latin names: 

Sheradia arvensis L.


Field madder is a small prostrate annual often plentiful on cultivated land especially on sandy, loamy and calcareous soils. It is native in arable fields, waste ground, verges, hedgebanks and on rough dry grassland and lawns. It is common throughout lowland Britain on all types of dry soils but is commonest on chalk grassland. It is not recorded above 1,250 ft in Britain.

In early surveys of Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire and Norfolk, field madder was found on all soil types but more usually on lighter loams and chalk. It is considered to be an indicator of lime and of loam soils.

There is evidence that field madder was a weed of crops in the Bronze Age. More recently it was prevalent in clover crops having been introduced as a seed contaminant.

It is not the madder used in dyeing.


Field madder flowers from May to October.

Field madder seedlings emerge from April to October with the main peak of emergence in June and a smaller one in September.

Persistence and Spread: 

Field madder seed has a relatively short persistence of less than 4 years in cultivated soil.

The seeds were a common contaminant in clover and grass seed of UK origin and from elsewhere.


Field madder may be controlled by surface cultivation from early spring onwards. It is important to prevent seeding by hoeing off the weed in crops that permit this.

Updated October 2007.

Fully referenced review: