Tuesday, October 07, 2008

100 Species Challenge: Part 5

Species identified:

1. Daisy
2. Creeping buttercup
3. White clover
4. Selfheal
5. Dandelion
6. Red clover
7. Autumn hawkbit
8. Weeping willow
9. Horse chestnut
10. Sycamore
11. Alder
12. Elder
13. Ragwort
14. Mugwort


A couple of similar named and rather unprepossessing flowers photographed at the country park ...

Ragwort

Scientific name: Senecio jacobaea
Family: Asteraceae
Flowers: June to November

To begin with I wasn't certain about my identification of ragwort. It is a toxic weed that causes fatal poisoning in horses and I vaguely imagined it was controlled to the point of being rare. A bit more research, though, suggests it is more common than I thought. Toxicity is not its only bad point - it is an unpleasant smelling plant and has acquired names like Stinking Nanny and Mare's Fart. However, it has a redeeming feature - ragwort is very attractive to insects, including bees, wasps (harmless varieties), hoverflies and butterflies. No less than thirty species feed solely on ragwort, so eliminating the plant from the countryside would have a detrimental effect on biodiversity. Conservation organisations argue that the number of horse deaths supposed to be due to ragwort are greatly overestimated, and that sensible controls are all that is needed - removing ragwort from fields where horses graze, and ensuring fodder is clear of ragwort, while leaving it in moderate amounts elsewhere. Ragwort is also naturally controlled by other insects, particularly the cinnabar moth and the flea beetle. This article from Buglife includes a huge amount of information about ragwort and its related fauna.

Mugwort

Scientific name: Artemesia vulgaris
Family: Asteraceae
Flowers: June to September

This was a new plant to me - I'm sure I have seen it before, but I had never identified it. Mugwort has a bitter flavour and was at one time used as a seasoning - for example, a sprig of mugwort was a traditional addition to the Christmas goose in Germany. In Korea and Japan mugwort is used to give a greenish tinge to rice cakes. Before the introduction of hops it was used to flavour beer - as it is supposed to be hallucinogenic, this may have led to the beer having a double effect! Mugwort is also supposed to have magical properties - those hallucinations again? In the middle ages it was known as the Girdle of St. John, as it was believed that St. John the Baptist wore it in the wilderness. Related superstitions include the idea that if gathered on St. John's Eve it has a protective effect against misfortune, and if worn as a crown on the same day it prevents possession by the devil. Like ragwort, mugwort can have some very nasty effects. It is a major allergen, triggering both hayfever and allergic asthma. Ugh!

1 comment:

Dorothy said...

You are doing really well with this project!