Ragworts, Fleabanes & Allies

Oxford Ragwort Common Ragwort Silver Ragwort Narrow-leaved Ragwort

What are they?

Ragworts and fleabanes form a group of often showy, yellow-flowered members of the daisy and dandelion family - the Asteraceae. Their flowers differ from those of the dandelions in having strap-like petals or 'rays' around the outside of the compound flowerhead only, with the small florets in the centre being petalless and forming a button-like middle. Flowers can confuse at times as the centres start yellow but turn brownish as they age. These plants are mostly herbaceous (although some are perennial) but form woody stems as they mature during the summer, the remains of which can often still be found through the winter and into the following spring. The plants tend to be multistemmed and the flowers are carried in relatively large clusters on many-branched stems.

Where are they found?

These are generally plants of open, usually grassy places, such as roadsides, commons, meadows, grassy heaths and lawns, but some species may be found in urban environments and others in wetlands or saltmarsh, so noting the habitat can be important to identification.

Identification

The ragworts can seem all rather similar at first, but a combination of leaf detail and a close look at the phyllaries (the green bracts around the base of the flowerhead), together with habitat type, should make identification relatively straight forward.



Common Ragwort      Senecio jacobaea

A very common and often abundant plant of sunny, grassy places. Flowers June to October. Bushy clumps of deep green, deeply cut and lobed leaves with a top knot of bright golden-yellow flowers are a common sight in the countryside. Plants often get defoliated by the black-and-yellow banded caterpillars of the Cinnabar moth. The leaves are intricately-cut with numerous side lobes and the end lobe is not much larger than the side lobes. Outer phyllaries on the flowerhead are mostly green with poorly-marked dark tips.

Common Ragwort Common Ragwort Common Ragwort Common Ragwort
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Flowers
Phyllaries
Leaf


Marsh Ragwort      Senecio aquaticus

An uncommon plant of wet meadows and grassy places along river valleys, perhaps most common in the Fens and in some of the lower reaches of the Broadland rivers. Flowers July to August. Quite easily confused with Common Ragwort at first, but the leaves have fewer side lobes and are less deeply dissected, while the end lobe is clearly much larger than the side lobes. Compared with Common Ragwort, this species has fewer stems and the flowers are carried in smaller clusters on a more openly branched stem.

Marsh Ragwort Marsh Ragwort Marsh Ragwort Marsh Ragwort
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Hoary Ragwort      Senecio erucifolius

A widespread species, but never in the abundance of Common Ragwort. Typically found on fertile but heavy, often clayey soils and frequent in grassy places throughout the boulder clay areas of East Anglia, as well as in The Fens and on compacted soils on sea walls around the coast. Flowers July to August. Pbhyllaries not obviously dark-tipped. Leaves with narrow, parallel-sided lobes and with their undersides clothed in dense, whitish hairs.

Hoary Ragwort Hoary Ragwort Hoary Ragwort Hoary Ragwort
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Phyllaries
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Oxford Ragwort      Senecio squalidus

Originally introduced as a botanical curiosity to Oxford (hence the English name) but now widespread throughout much of Britain as a weed of urban environments. Flowers May to December. A sprawling, well-branched plant with narrowly lobed leaves. Phyllaries on the flowerheads are all clearly blackish-tipped. This plant has become something of an enigma, as research has shown it to be rather different to plants growing in the original collecting area at Mount Etna in Sicily and it seems possible that what we call 'Oxford Ragwort' may actually by a hybrid population between the original introduced species and another unidentified species. Thus, it may be a British endemic plant!

Oxford Ragwort Oxford Ragwort Oxford Ragwort Oxford Ragwort
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Phyllaries
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Narrow-leaved Ragwort      Senecio inaequidens

A South African species that appears to have been inadvertently introduced to the UK in wool waste. The first recorded occurrence for Suffolk was in 2002, with plants having spread from the London area, northward through Essex. It may now be found in several of East Anglia's larger towns and will surely continue to increase as a weed of urban habitats. Flowers June to October. Told from our other ragwort species by its narrowly linear, mostly untoothed leaves with grey-hairy undersides.

Narrow-leaved Ragwort Narrow-leaved Ragwort Narrow-leaved Ragwort Narrow-leaved Ragwort
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Phyllaries
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Broad-leaved Ragwort      Senecio sarracenicus

Introduced as a garden plant and becoming established in a handful of sites in the Norfolk Broads, most notably at Wheatfen Broad. Flowers July to September. A tall species, often growing to 150cm or more among tall, fen vegetation. Flowers carried in flat-topped, open clusters. Leaves unlobed but strongly saw-edged. Phyllaries and flowering stems clearly clothed in silky white hairs.

Broad-leaved Ragwort Broad-leaved Ragwort Broad-leaved Ragwort Broad-leaved Ragwort
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Fen Ragwort      Senecio paludosus

An extremely rare native species, almost completely extirpated by drainage of the Fens. Once thought extinct, it was rediscovered in Cambridgeshire in the 1970s and still hangs on at its sole native UK site. Recovery programs for the species have seen it introduced to a few sites in West Suffolk. Flowers May to July. A tall plant, to two metres in height, distinguished by its long, willow-like leaves with densely white-hairy undersides and strongly toothed margins.

Fen Ragwort Fen Ragwort Fen Ragwort Fen Ragwort
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Phyllaries
Leaves
Leaf close-up


Silver Ragwort      Senecio cineraria

Introduced from the Mediterranean region as a garden plant and occasionally persisitng well as a woody perennial of cliffsides and steep banks near the sea. Often grown as a border bedding plant and occasionally found spreading from such places as an urban weed. Flowers June to August. Very variable due to horticultural selection, with some forms having much whiter and deeper-lobed leaves than others. The silver-grey, deeply lobed foliage is unlikely to be confused with anything else.

Silver Ragwort Silver Ragwort Silver Ragwort Silver Ragwort
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Lower leaves
Upper leaves


Shrub Ragwort      Brachyglottis x jubar

A very common garden and amenity shrub, especially near the coast due to its salt tolerance. Just occasionally found as a survivor of former plantings or persisting as a garden throw-out. Flowers mostly June to August. The smoothly rounded, densely white-hairy leaves and yellow 'ragwort' flowers are distinctive.

Shrub Ragwort Shrub Ragwort Shrub Ragwort Shrub Ragwort
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Leaves


Common Fleabane      Pulicaria dysenterica

Common in many kinds of damp, grassy places. Flowers August to September. A bushy, much-branched herbaceous perennial, forming spreading colonies of densely white-downy stems with deeply corrugated leaves.

Common Fleabane Common Fleabane Common Fleabane Common Fleabane
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Phyllaries
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Small Fleabane      Pulicaria vulgaris

A native species now lost to our region, with the last records coming from the 1960s and lost from Cambridgeshire as early as the 1880s. In the UK, now confined to the New Forest in Hampshire. Flowers July to September. A small, densely hairy annual to just 45cm in height. Flowerheads have very small petals or rays which barely poke out from the globular, very hairy, flowerheads. Unlikely to be found in the region again, but included here for completion - and hope!

Small Fleabane Small Fleabane Small Fleabane Small Fleabane
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Golden-samphire      Inula crithmoides

A woody-based perennial subshrub of sandy spots along the upper edge of saltmarsh. On the northern edge of its range in East Anglia and, although fairly common on the Essex coast, it soon peters out in Suffolk, with just a handful of locations along the Stour and northward to Orfordness. Flowers July to August. Plants are hairless and with fleshy, linear leaves that are typical of saltmarsh plants.

Golden-samphire Golden-samphire Golden-samphire Golden-samphire
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Phyllaries
Seedheads


Woody Fleabane      Dittrichia viscosa

Introduced from the Mediterranean region and known only from a single location at Felixstowe Docks, Suffolk. Flowers July to September. Formerly well established near Landguard Fort, this species may now have died out in our region, but may occur again as an accidental introduction in coastal port areas. The whole plant has a distinctive, strong smell and is covered in very sticky, glandular hairs. Flowers are numerous along the stems (rather than in a terminal cluster) and are rather ragged-looking, with fewer yellow petals or 'rays' than other species on this page. Leaves are simple, unlobed and with recurved edges.

Woody Fleabane Woody Fleabane Woody Fleabane Woody Fleabane
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Stem