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Pontifications on Poison

Being some ramblings on events associated with poisonous plants.

Wednesday 22nd August 2012

I decided to set myself a long-term project. Just along the road from me there is a small clump of Jacobaea vulgaris (syn. Senecio jacobaea), common ragwort. It stands all alone in the hedge and there are no other plants in sight.

If the sort of things you read on ‘horsey’ forums are correct then these two or three plants should produce between 300,000 and 450,000 seeds that will spread over a wide area with 70% of them germinating. I thought I’d see what happens.

The reason it is a long-term project is that common ragwort is a biennial. When the seeds these plants will produce germinate they will produce a low rosette plant in 2013. Then, in 2014, those rosettes will grow up and flower. I don’t expect to be able to see how prevalent the rosettes are so I’ll have to wait for the flowering stage.

I think it is quite a good test site. Here is the clump of plants

Jacobaea vulgaris (syn. Senecio jacobaea), common ragwort 

And here’s a wider view showing that there is no other ragwort in the area.

Jacobaea vulgaris (syn. Senecio jacobaea), common ragwort 

As well as the grass verges and hedges, with fields on the other side, there is this patch of untended ground that should be ideal for colonisation;

Jacobaea vulgaris (syn. Senecio jacobaea), common ragwort 

Now, all we have to do is sit back until August 2014 when I can take repeat pictures from the same positions to see what has happened.


I remembered that there is a field on the road to the swimming pool where I have regularly seen Jacobaea vulgaris growing and, equally regularly, seen cattle grazing the pasture. I mentioned this field last year 27th July when I said I didn’t think ‘greedy’ farmers would take risks with their cattle if there was a real risk of them grazing on living ragwort.

I knew I’d taken an interest in this field for some years and dug back to find any images. What I found was a poor quality video, shot on 25th July 2008, from which this, even poorer quality, screenshot is taken.

Jacobaea vulgaris (syn. Senecio jacobaea), common ragwort 

It is though good enough to show a cow happily grazing within a few feet of a few ragwort plants. I can’t find anything for 2009 or 2010 but on 27th July 2011 I took this picture of cows lying down close to a few, small ragwort plants;

Jacobaea vulgaris (syn. Senecio jacobaea), common ragwort 

Today, I went back and took some more views of the same field. This one is of exactly the same part of the field as the one above and, though the cows are absent, you can see that the amount of ragwort is unchanged.

Jacobaea vulgaris (syn. Senecio jacobaea), common ragwort 

There is still ragwort in the field and there are still cattle as this picture shows

Jacobaea vulgaris (syn. Senecio jacobaea), common ragwort 

But this more general view indicates that four years after the video was shot that provided the screencap above, that is two complete cycles for this biennial plant, the field still has only a smattering of plants.

Jacobaea vulgaris (syn. Senecio jacobaea), common ragwort 

I think I’m justified in saying that ragwort does not spread nearly as easily as is often claimed and that means my new project is by way of seeing if that is confirmed. 

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