Succisa pratensis Moench, also known as Devil's-bit Scabious, is a flowering plant of the genus Succisa in the family Dipsacaceae. It differs from other similar species in that it has 4 lobed flowers, whereas Small Scabious and Field scabious have 5 lobes. Hence it has been placed in a separate genus of the same family. It also grows on damper ground. Its leaves are un-lobed, unlike Field Scabious, and are arranged in opposite pairs. The leaves and plant can be confused with Greater Knapweed, however Knapweed has leaves that are alternate, not opposite. It prefers moist soil - damp meadows and woods, lowland heath, marshy areas -but will tolerate drier conditions. Male and female flowers are produced on different heads, the female being smaller. It flowers from June until October, is a good source of nectar and is the foodplant of the Marsh Fritillary butterfly -whose eggs are laid in groups on the underside of the plant -and the Narrow-bordered Bee Hawk-moth, Hemaris tityus. As both plant and invertebrates are rare, their survival relies on careful management of sites containing these species.
Species of Scabious were used to treat Scabies and other afflictions of the skin, including sores caused by the Bubonic Plague. The word 'scabies' comes from the Latin word for "scratch" (scabere). The short black root was, in folk tales, bitten off by the devil, angry at the plant's ability to cure these ailments, in anger against the Virgin Mary, or as part of some 'devilish plot'.
Ideal growing conditions - The aim is to produce an uneven patchwork of short and long vegetation by the end of the grazing period in June, between 8 and 25 cm. This is to allow the Devil's-Bit Scabious food plant to grow. This can be achieved through low intensity grazing (also known as extensive grazing) using cattle or mowing at 10cm height up till July. The plants which are low lying will be able to get more light in their leaves and then send up a flower spike. Sheep are not so good as they are more efficient at removing wild plants.