Jacobaea of all trades

While people back at the Forest Centre have been enjoying Purple Emperors (not that I’m jealous in the slightest!), myself, Ashley and Katy (a work experience student with us for 4 weeks) have been controlling the spread of Ragwort over the Forest.

As things stand, we have visited every car park on the Forest and tried to remove as many plants as we can from the roadside. There may be stands of Ragwort on rides which we have not got to yet but hopefully we will in due course.

Most of the Ragwort we are pulling up is Common Ragwort, which can grow to about a metre and has yellow flowers. Common Ragwort (Jacobaea vulgaris) has the potential to spread over disturbed or poached soil and can become dominant. It is not a plant that has been introduced the British Isles and Ragwort and Groundsels are members of the Daisy family.


Common ragwort

Common Ragwort contains toxins (pyrrolizidine alkaloids), which, if ingested in large enough quantities (it varies from animal to animal), can damage and, in some cases, fatally damage an animal’s liver.

Ragworts are an important food source for insects and for some species, most famously the Cinnabar Moth (Tyria jacobaeae), it is their main food plant. Cinnabar Moth caterpillars are black and yellow striped with little hairs and touching them can cause a rash. The caterpillars store the toxins ingested from the Ragwort in their bodies.

Because of the Ragwort’s close association with insects such as this we are leaving some Ragwort for them.


Cinnabar moth caterpillars

It is worth knowing what is not Ragwort, as there are plants that we have left that do look similar.

The first one, which looks most similar in my opinion, is Perforate St. Johns Wort (Hypericum perforatum). This is a fairly common plant on the Forest and can look very similar to Ragwort but the stamens on the flower protrude a lot further and only have 5 petals, whereas Ragworts have many more!


Perforate St John’s-wort

Also similar is Common Fleabane (Pulicaria dysenterica), which just to be terribly unscientific, looks like little sunflowers on stalks. Common Fleabane also has a lighter green stem and leaves than Ragworts.



Common Groundsel, which is also in the Daisy family, has deeply serrated and hairy leaves. This is possibly the most Ragwort-like looking plant of the lot and can also be a food plant of the Cinnabar Moth. I haven’t knowingly found any on the Forest yet but if I do I’ll take a photo of it!

Another plant to that looks similar is this, Goldenrod! This grows about the same height as Ragwort but has pointed leaves and narrow, drooping flower heads.


Canadian goldenrod

Finally, we have something that can look surprisingly like ragwort from a distance: dead Bracken!


That’s all the yellow flowering plants I can cope with for now!

Should have some good insects for the blog!

Your friendly Countryside Worker,