Senecio vulgaris, The Common Groundsel

Common Groundsel (Senecio vulgaris)Groundsel might be a bit of a hard sell. It is not everybody’s first thought when choosing a favourite wild flower.

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)

Common Groundsel (Senecio vulgaris)Common Groundsel is a member of the Asteraceae or Daisy family,

The flower head is made up of dozens of small disc florets (flowers) like the centre of a daisy, without the white “petals,”

Common Groundsel (Senecio vulgaris)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,

Common Groundsel (Senecio vulgaris)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.

Common Groundsel (Senecio vulgaris)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 Groundsel (Senecio vulgaris)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.

Common Groundsel (Senecio vulgaris)Now the flowers that served to pollinate the fruit have done their job they will fall away from the seeds before the seeds disperse.

Common Groundsel (Senecio vulgaris)As the corolla tubes fall away all that is left is the seed with the white sepals that now become the pappus or parachute to carry the seed away on the wind.

Common Groundsel (Senecio vulgaris)The plants ability to produce thousands of seeds at any time of year coupled with it’s preference for disturbed ground make Groundsel a particular pest to gardeners.

Common Groundsel (Senecio vulgaris)(Common Groundsel seedling)

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.

Common Groundsel (Senecio vulgaris) Common Groundsel (Senecio vulgaris)   Common Groundsel (Senecio vulgaris)   Common Groundsel (Senecio vulgaris)The leaves can be quite smooth but they are often covered in long white hairs.

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.

Common Groundsel (Senecio vulgaris) Common Groundsel (Senecio vulgaris)   Common Groundsel (Senecio vulgaris)   Common Groundsel (Senecio vulgaris)The Latin Name Senecio is derived from the word “Sinex” which means “Old man,” It is a reference to the wispy white hairs of the pappus.

Common Groundsel (Senecio vulgaris)The common name Groundsel comes from the Old English “Grundeswylige” and means “To swallow the ground,” a reference to the plants ability to cover large areas, quickly.

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.

Common Ragwort(Common Ragwort)

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.

Common Groundsel (Senecio vulgaris)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.

Common Groundsel (Senecio vulgaris)

Common Groundsel (Senecio vulgaris)Taxonomy:

Kingdom: Plantae

Order: Asterales

Family: Asteraceae

Genus: Senecio

Species: Senecio vulgaris

Common Groundsel (Senecio vulgaris)

Common Groundsel (Senecio vulgaris)Back to Yellow Wildflowers

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