Regarded as a weed by many it is a wild flower native to the UK, I will show you how to identify it.
(It’s native range extends throughout Eurasia and North Africa and it is naturalised in many other places including North America)
The flower head is made up of dozens of small disc florets (flowers) like the centre of a daisy, without the white “petals,”
The lack of ray florets (“petals”) helps to distinguish this species from it’s close relatives Heath Groundsel (S. syllvaticus) and Sticky Groundsel (S, viscous) which do have ray florets with the appearance of petals.
The flower head is contained within a cylinder of green bracts called an involucre. These are not sepals each individual flower inside the flower head has it’s own sepals.
There is a second outer ring of black tipped bracts at the base of the involucre,
Inside the cylinder of bracts there is a dense cluster of small flowers. Each flower sits on top of an ovary which will become the seed. At the top of the ovary there are a series of fine white hairs these are the sepals and they will become the parachute that will carry the seed away. Through the centre of the sepals runs the long white tube that is the corolla of the flower (Coralla is a word that is used when the petals of a flower are fused together)The corolla opens out into a small flower with five yellow lobes.
As each flower opens the style emerges. The style has two yellow lobes, this is the pollen receptive female part of the flower and it is connected through the corolla to the ovary. The flower also has five stamens, the male pollen producing part, these form a tube around the lower part of the style and as the style grows through them it collects pollen.
Common Grounsel is extremely self fertile. It can flower throughout a mild winter, when there are no pollinators about and still produce seed. The plant is very short lived (about five weeks) but in that time it can produce thousands of fertile seeds.
When the seeds are ripe the green bracts open to reveal the seed head.
However, whilst prolific the plant has a very shallow root system and is easily removed through weeding.
The shape of the leaves is best described with a photograph.
These hairs also often cover the stems beneath the flowers and they are often described as cobwebby, they do sometimes give the plant the appearance of being covered in cobwebs.
Other common names include Common Butterweed and Ragwort.
In the UK at least Ragwort is a misnomer because that name belongs to another plant, Jacobaea vulgaris.
Ragwort used to be known as Senecio jacobaea and the two plants are closely related. Common Groundsel contains some of the same alkaloids that make Ragwort poisonous to livestock.
Small quantities of Groundsel ingested over a period of time can cause irreversible liver damage.
However there are few reported cases of Groundsel poisoning in livestock, it is only really a threat when feed such as hay bales become contaminated.
As a plant for wildlife Groundsel has some value. There are a few moth species that utilise it as a food plant including the Flame Shoulder (Ochropleura plecta) and the Cinnabar Moth (Tyria jacobaeae). There are also several species of beetles and flies that eat it.
I suspect that these interactions are under reported given the known value of Common Ragwort and the very similar qualities of the two plants.
Small birds also eat the seeds which are very often available mid winter.
Species: Senecio vulgaris