19. Oct, 2015

Beware of beauty

Senecio Jacobaea has very few friends, despite her beautiful head of yellow flowers. The problem is in her common name, Ragwort, which paints a picture of a raggy person covered in warts, usually poisonous! But Senecio Jacobaea is not a person; she’s a bright wild flower with the potential to kill, or at least cause sickness, pain and suffering!

     But please don’t write her off just yet. You see, due to her good supply of nectar and pollen, she is loved by many! Her fan following consists of insects, flies, bees and butterflies. So taking away Senecio and you take away this romantic liaison between 150 wild species. But to many people, getting rid of her is the only option! Especially people that keep horses!

      Ragwort is poisonous to horses and quite often, there are no symptoms until it’s too late. The horse will stop eating and lose weight quickly. They will become sensitive to the sun and lose co-ordination.  Quite often they lose their sight and eventually struggle to breathe. This is liver failure in a horse.

      So what makes this plant a killer? Well it contains pyrrolizidine alkaloids compounds (but so do 1/3rd of all plants) that are poisonous to most animals. Once in the intestines, it’s broken down by the liver. It’s the liver cell damage that kills the poor animals that eats Senecio Jacobaea when no other food is available.

       It is a sorry tale for many, but one that could have a happy ending if you avoid the Jekyll and Hyde plant.