The RHS identifies Ragwort as: ‘a tall erect plant to 90cm (3ft) bearing large flat-topped clusters of yellow daisy-like flowers from July to October. It has finely divided leaves with a basal rosette of deeply-cut, toothed leaves. 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.’
There are two types of Ragwort, one native and one non-native. Many insects, including our own Cinnabar Moth, specialise on plants like ragwort and groundsel.
As with any plant – ‘a weed is simply a plant in the wrong place’. Most of us are familiar with Ragwort’s association with livestock poisoning – and rightly so, in areas where livestock are present.
However, in areas where this is not the case, and hay is not used as livestock feed, such as here on Barnes Common, a certain amount of Ragwort is welcomed: Buglife notes ‘that at least 30 insect species (and 14 fungi species) are entirely reliant on Ragwort, and about a third of the insects 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’, including the Small Copper, and helps support populations of higher species, including birds and bats.
Here on the Common, it really is best left alone. Ragwort is a toxic plant and like many plants, can cause irritation when in contact with skin or through inhaling pollen. Due to the plant’s toxicity to humans, we strongly advise against picking any part of the plant. We do not remove ragwort from the common and legislation under the Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981) makes it illegal for members of the public ‘to uproot any wild plant without permission from the landowner or occupier.’ Instead, please take the time to enjoy the wildlife it attracts.
Friend or Foe…One thing is certain, be you butterfly enthusiast or horse lover, there are always opinions about the pros and cons of this plant and its contentious reputation!