Latin: Senecio jacobaea

Other names: Common ragwort, tansy ragwort

Family: Asteraceae

Ragwort is a common weed found in the United Kingdom and Ireland that belongs to the aster family (Asteraceae). It is also known as common ragwort or tansy ragwort. Ragwort is a biennial or perennial plant known for its vibrant yellow flowers and deeply lobed leaves.

Ragwort is typically found in grasslands, pastures, meadows, and roadside verges. It is native to Europe and has become naturalized in many parts of the UK and Ireland.

Identifying Ragwort

Ragwort possesses several distinct features that help distinguish it from other similar-looking plants. The stems of ragwort are upright and can reach heights of up to 1 meter. The leaves are deeply lobed and have a dark green color. The characteristic yellow flowers of ragwort form clusters at the top of the stems and bloom from late spring to early autumn.

The Dangers of Ragwort to Livestock

Ragwort is considered a significant threat to livestock, especially horses and cattle, due to its toxicity. The plant contains toxic compounds known as pyrrolizidine alkaloids, which can cause liver damage and other health issues when ingested by animals over a prolonged period.

While ragwort is unpalatable to most animals when fresh, it becomes more attractive to livestock when it is dried in hay or silage. Ingesting ragwort over time can lead to cumulative liver damage, resulting in a condition known as ragwort poisoning or pyrrolizidine alkaloidosis.

The effects of ragwort poisoning can be severe, causing weight loss, poor appetite, depression, liver failure, and even death in extreme cases. Young or weak animals are particularly vulnerable. Additionally, the alkaloids present in ragwort can also be passed into the milk of lactating animals, posing a risk to young offspring.

Managing Ragwort in Grassland

Due to the dangers posed by ragwort to livestock, managing its presence in grasslands and pastures is essential. Controlling ragwort requires a combination of approaches (Integrated Pest Management / IPM):

  1. Manual Removal: Hand-pulling or digging out ragwort plants can be effective for small infestations, especially in areas where livestock are present. It is crucial to remove the entire plant, including the roots, to prevent regrowth.
  2. Cutting and Grazing: Regular cutting or grazing of grassland can help prevent the flowering and seed production of ragwort. This can be particularly effective when timed appropriately to prevent the spread of seeds.
  3. Herbicide Use: Selective herbicides specifically designed for ragwort control may be used in larger infestations or areas where manual methods are not feasible. It is important to follow the instructions provided by the herbicide manufacturer and consider any potential impact on non-target species.
  4. Vigilance and Monitoring: Regular monitoring of grasslands and pastures for ragwort infestations is crucial. Early detection and prompt action can prevent the spread and establishment of ragwort.

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