Colin is well-used to mowing carefully around the various species of orchid we have growing in the lawn, so when he noticed an unfamiliar plant he was quick to stop the mower and call me over.
The plant in question is a Common Broomrape (Orobanche minor)
The unusual thing about all Broomrapes is that they are parasitic. Lacking chlorophyll to synthesise their own products they take their nutrients from the roots of a host plant.
In this case the host plant is clover, as can be seen from the following photos..
Common Broomrape is easily confused with other Broomrapes, of which there are several. These are usually named after their host plant, such as "Thistle Broomrape" or "Thyme Broomrape". Unlike Thyme Broomrape, Common Broomrape is not scented and grows nearly twice as tall - up to 60cm.
The best identifier, though, is the host plant. Whilst Common Broomrape can host on a variety of plants, it especially favours clover and wild carrot.
Whilst our little plant is unlikely to do us much harm, there is debate about the amount of damage Broomrapes can cause to crops by taking nutrients from the roots of its host. In Spain and Romania in particular, research is looking into damage the Broomrape (Orobanche cumana), which hosts on sunflowers, does to the production of sunflower oil.
And I thought it was simply an interesting plant to be saved from the ravages of the lawn mower!
You never know what menaces lurk in your own back yard...