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Ragwort is one of the most divisive plants in the countryside. It contains chemicals that are toxic to livestock and has been blamed for many deaths of horses and other animals. Yet, conservationists say it’s a native wildflower vital for pollinating insects. Ragwort is a tall plant that grows to 90cm high and bears large, flat-topped clusters of yellow daisy-like flowers from July to October. Nineteen species of the Ragwort genus Senecio are found in the wild in Britain, but most of these are garden escapes or other introductions.A garden variety weed, the ragwort plant is considered a noxious weed because it is very hard to completely eradicate from an area. The plant spreads quickly by rhizomes and branching. Occasionally it is found in prairies, through a dense invasion of boulders and logs.
While there is consensus that ragwort poses some threat to domestic animals, it is difficult to assess the actual level of danger and impossible to say how many horses and other animals are affected in the UK without more detailed research. Therefore, conservationists argue that removing a native wildflower impoverishes our natural world, and therefore should not be done.Besides the fact that ragwort is very attractive to such a vast array of insects, some of these are very rare indeed. Of the 30 species that specifically feed on ragwort alone, seven are officially deemed nationally scarce. A further three species are on the IUCN Red List. In short, ragwort is an exclusive food source for ten rare or threatened insect species, including the cinnabar moth (Tyria jacobaeae),Ragwort contains many different alkaloids, making it poisonous to certain animals. (EHC 80,section 9.1.4). Alkaloids which have been found in the plant confirmed by the WHO report EHC 80 are -- jacobine, jaconine, jacozine, otosenine, retrorsine, seneciphylline, senecionine, and senkirkine (p. 322 Appendix II). There is a strong variation between plants from the same location in distribution between the possible alkaloids and even the absolute amount of alkaloids varies drastically.
In the United Kingdom, common ragwort (Senecio jacobaea) is one of the five plants named as an injurious weed under the provisions of the Weeds Act 1959. The word injurious in this context indicates that it could be harmful to agriculture, not that it is dangerous to animals, as all the other injurious weeds listed are non-toxic. Under the terms of this Act, a land occupier can be required by the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to prevent the spread of the plant. However, the growth of the plant is not made illegal by the Act and there is no statutory obligation for control placed upon landowners in general.Ragwort is a food plant for the larvae of Cochylis atricapitana, Phycitodes maritima, and Phycitodes saxicolais. Ragwort is best known as the food of caterpillars of the cinnabar moth Tyria jacobaeae. They absorb alkaloids from the plant and become distasteful to predators, a fact advertised by the black and yellow warning colours. The red and black, day-flying adult moth is also distasteful to many potential predators. The moth is used as a control for ragwort in countries in which it has been introduced and become a problem, like New Zealand and the western United States. (Source:en.wikipedia.org)