In my previous post all about the classification of the Asteraceae I mentioned Ragwort which used to be in the genus Senecio with 21 species but has now been split of into the genus Jacobaea.
The family is highly evolved to home many insects and supports a rich biodiversity.
The Ragworts are poisonous weeds of which Jacobaea vulgaris is the most common. It can become a major weed of waste or other uncultivated ground.
The plant is usually a biennial (living only two years and flowering in its second year) but damage to the base of the plant can make the plant behave like a perennial (living indefinitely), as new rosettes are formed.
Ragwort is rarely a problem in gardens but may occur in pony paddocks, railway embankments and areas of unimproved pasture. Cattle and horses are particularly susceptible to poisoning. Cutting, wilting and the treatment with herbicides make ragwort less unpalatable to livestock and poisoning mainly arises from eating contaminated hay.
Common ragwort produces large numbers of seeds which are dispersed by the wind.
Ragwort is covered by the Weeds Act 1959 (which specifies five injurious weeds including common ragwort) and the Ragwort Control Act 2003. For guidance, on good practice and the legal framework for land managers, consult the Code of Practice on How to Prevent the Spread of Ragwort.
Now for the good news!
One man’s invasive vegetation with nothing going for it, is another man’s splash of sunshine that attracts gorgeous insects!
At least 30 insect species (and 14 fungi species) are entirely reliant on Ragwort, of which a third of those are scarce or rare. Ragwort is also an important nectar source for hundreds of species of butterflies, bees, moths, flies and other invertebrates, helping to support populations in the UK countryside.
You can also read about its even medicinal uses in the past on this fabulous website where the author summarises that:
the dead plant, unseen in a bale of hay, is far more harmful than all the living plants seen along roadsides and in fields.
Friends of the Earth came with a really good summing up of why Ragwort is used as one of our black sheep in our countryside with telling us about the 4 common myths around this plant:
Myth 1: Ragwort is a serious risk to horses and cattle
It is mildly poisonous, but the taste of the plant is usually off-putting to livestock. That’s why it’s not unusual to see horses in fields chomping on very short grass but leaving the ragwort – clever things. The danger comes when cut and dried as hay fed to these animals. But bought hay is usually from specific good quality grass and not ‘rubbish’ mixed tough herbs. It is also on the owner to make sure of the quality before he/she feeds it to his/her livestock!
Myth 2: Ragwort is poisonous to humans
Who in their state of minds is going to eat fast quantities of foul testing herbs?
Myth 3: Ragwort must be removed wherever it’s found
When left to its own devices this normal biennial flower dies out after flowering. But has in common with other biennials that if it is not allowed to flower its energy reserves will go into forming a more perennial plant if not removed completely! But the law does not require removal. See more about the laws above.
Myth 4. Pull ragwort out before it goes to seed
As explained earlier this is normally a biennial and will just get encouraged to grow a bigger plant the following year. Yes, the seeds can make new plants in bare soil only; which is not usual in pasture land.
So that was rather a lot on Ragwort alone!
Finishing with pictures of some of the creatures living on this fascinating plant: