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Senecio vulgaris

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Senecio vulgaris
Scientific classification Edit this classification
Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Tracheophytes
Clade: Angiosperms
Clade: Eudicots
Clade: Asterids
Order: Asterales
Family: Asteraceae
Genus: Senecio
S. vulgaris
Binomial name
Senecio vulgaris
Range of Senecio vulgaris
Synonyms [2]

Senecio vulgaris, often known by the common names groundsel[3]: 764  and old-man-in-the-spring,[4] is a flowering plant in the family Asteraceae. It is an annual herb, native to the Palaearctic and widely naturalised as a ruderal species in suitable disturbed habitats worldwide.


Dew-covered common groundsel flower in New Jersey

Senecio vulgaris is an erect herbaceous annual growing up to 16 inches (41 cm) tall.[3]: 764  The inflorescences usually lack ray florets, the yellow disc florets mostly hidden by the bracts giving the flowers an inconspicuous appearance. Senecio vulgaris is very similar to Senecio viscosus but S. vulgaris does not have the glandular hairs and ray florets found in S. viscosus.[5]

Leaves and stems[edit]

Upper leaves of Senecio vulgaris are sessile, lacking their own stem (petiole), alternating in direction along the length of the plant, two rounded lobes at the base of the stem (auriculate) and sub-clasping above. Leaves are pinnately lobed and +2.4 inches (61 mm) long and 1 inch (25 mm) wide, smaller towards the top of the plant. Leaves are sparsely covered with soft, smooth, fine hairs. Lobes typically sharp to rounded saw-toothed.[6][7]

The hollow[8] stems branch at the tops and from the base.[6] Stems and leaves can both host the Cineraria leaf rust.[9]


Open clusters of 10 to 22 small cylinder shaped rayless yellow flower heads 14 to 12 inch (6 to 13 mm) with a highly conspicuous ring of black tipped bracts at the base of the inflorescence as is characteristic of many members of the genus Senecio.[6] There is a radiate form of Senecio vulgaris, which is the result of cross pollination with the closely related Oxford ragwort, Senecio squalidus.[10]


The name for the genus Senecio is probably derived from senex (an old man), in reference to its downy head of seeds; "the flower of this herb hath white hair and when the wind bloweth it away, then it appeareth like a bald-headed man"[11] and like its family, flowers of Senecio vulgaris are succeeded by downy globed heads of seed. The seeds are achene, include a pappus[12] and become sticky when wet.[13] Laboratory tests have suggested maximum seed scattering distances of 4.2 and 4.6 yd (3.8 and 4.2 m) at wind speeds of 6.8 and 10.2 mph (10.9 and 16.4 km/h) respectively (affected by plant height),[9] suggesting that it was more than wind that spread these groundsel seeds throughout the world.

The average weight of 1000 seeds is 0.21 gram (2,200,000 seeds per pound) and experienced a 100% germination success before drying and storage and an 87% germination success after drying and 3 years of cool dry storage.[14] In simple models for seed emergence prediction, soil thermal time did not predict the timing and extent of seedling emergence as well as hydrothermal time[15][16] (warm rain).


The root system consists of a shallow taproot. This plant spreads by reseeding itself.[8]

Groundsel acts as a host for the fungus that causes black root rot in peas,[9] alfalfa, soybeans, carrots, tomatoes, red clover, peanuts, cucurbits, cotton, citrus, chickpeas, and several ornamental flowering plants; a list of flowering plants that can host their own fungus as well.

Etymology and naming[edit]

Binomial etymology

  • In Latin Senecio means 'old man'. This name, used by Pliny, is in reference the plant becoming grey and hairy when fruiting.[17]
  • Vulgaris means 'usual', 'common', or 'vulgar'.[17]

Common names

  • Vernacular names for S. vulgaris in English include old-man-in-the-spring, common groundsel, groundsel, ragwort, grimsel, grinsel, grundsel, simson, birdseed, chickenweed, old-man-of-the-spring, squaw weed, grundy swallow, ground glutton and common butterweed.[9][11][18][19][20][21]


Senecio vulgaris is considered to be native to Europe, northern Asia, and parts of North Africa. Its further distribution is less clear. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), Natural Resources Conservation Service Plants Profile Database[22] considers it to be native to all 50 of the United States of America, Canada, Greenland, Saint Pierre and Miquelon,[1] the same USDA through the Germplasm Resources Information Network (GRIN)[23] considers it to be native only to parts of Afro-Eurasia.[18] The Integrated Taxonomic Information System Organization (ITIS), a partnership among many United States federal government departments and agencies[24] states that the species has been introduced to the 50 United States,[25] and the online journal Flora of North America calls it "probably introduced" to areas north of Mexico.[26] Individual research groups claim it is not native to areas they oversee: Florida,[27] Washington,[28] Wisconsin,[29] Saskatchewan,[30] British Columbia,[31] Missouri.[32] The United States Geological Survey reports that common groundsel is exotic to all 50 states and all Canadian provinces with the exception of Georgia, Kentucky, Massachusetts, and Labrador.[33]


Senecio vulgaris is a frost-resistant[6] deciduous annual plant that grows in disturbed sites, waste places, roadsides, gardens, nurseries, orchards, vineyards, landscaped areas, agricultural lands,[19] at altitudes up to 1,600 feet (500 m)[6] and is, additionally, self-pollinating[19] producing 1,700 seeds per plant with three generations per year.[34] Seeds are dispersed by wind and also cling to clothing and animal fur,[9] and as contaminates of commercially exchanged seeds; the distribution of this plant throughout the world has been difficult if not impossible to contain.


Flame shoulder moth or Ochropleura plecta.
Cinnabar moth (Tyria jacobaeae) caterpillar feeding on a Senecio.

The seed of common groundsel is a good green food for canaries and finches and it is available all year round.[9]

Senecio vulgaris seed has been found in the droppings of sparrows, and seedlings have been raised from the excreta of various birds. Seed has also been found in cow manure.[9]

Some Lepidoptera species eat many of the Senecio;[6] additional studies via electrophysiological recordings have shown that the taste sensilla of the cinnabar moth larvae respond (get excited) specifically to the pyrrolizidine alkaloids, which all Senecio contain.[35]

Moths and caterpillars[19][36]

The Senecio also are host to other insects:[19][37][38]



Seed flies (Diptera: Muscoidea)
Gall flies (Diptera: Tephritidae):

and other insects that are not listed here.

The ragwort flea beetle and ragwort seed fly have been approved and released for Senecio control in California,[19] Australia[37] and elsewhere.

Fungi Most Senecio, including S. squalidus are susceptible to rust and other fungus and mildews:[6][38][39]

Rust fungus Uredinales
White rust Peronosporales
Sac fungus Ascochyta, Pezizomycetes
Groundsel mildew Erysiphales
Powdery mildew Erysiphales
Black root rot Microascales

and other fungus that are not listed here.


In the United States, Senecio vulgaris has been listed as a noxious weed,[40] being both non-indigenous to most if not all of the Americas and having a reputation for being hepatotoxic to livestock[41] and to humans.[42][43][44]

Toxic versus medicinal[edit]


As a plant that is reported to be both poisonous for human ingestion and also medicinal; much of the contradiction can be found by closely reviewing the words that are used and the dose (amount) of the poisonous substance that is ingested to prove either claim. All species of the genus Senecio contain pyrrolizidine alkaloids (e.g., senecionine), a substance that when a human has chronic exposure[45] can cause irreversible liver damage.[11][46]

Common groundsel as a medicinal herb does not seem to have been recommended very often since 1931, when it was recommended as a diaphoretic, an antiscorbutic, a purgative, a diuretic and an anthelmintic, which was a demotion as it was previously suggested for the expelling of gravel of the kidneys and reins by Pedanius Dioscorides in the 1st century, for use as poultices by John Gerard in the late 16th century and as a cure for epilepsy by Nicholas Culpeper in the 17th century.[11] More current information is contradictory about the dangers of the ingestion of groundsel. A heavily referenced paper from 1989 suggests that the response is immediate and gives pre-ambulatory care recommendations.[42] A Canadian poisonous plants information database references a paper from 1990 in presenting this prenatal warning: "In a case of prenatal exposure, a mother ingested tea containing an estimated 0.343 milligram of senecionine, resulting in fatal veno-occlusive disease in a newborn infant."[46] Information about the pyrrolizidine alkaloids, the substance present in Senecio vulgaris is much less contradictory and all warn of accumulation of the alkaloid.[47][48][49][50]

Certain pyrrolizidine alkaloids are non-toxic precursors that are converted to toxic metabolites in the body in a process called toxification[51]

Botanist and noted authority on plant-lore Albert Roy Vickery quotes a 1991 account of the use of groundsel as a highly effective purge in the English county of Dorset:

Mr Joby House, who used to be at Hewood, told us that, for constipation, you boiled groundsel and lard and take that and you will shit through the eye of a needle. His sister Lucy had constipation so bad that when the doctor called in the morning he said Lucy would be dead by 5 o’clock. Mrs. House went to the gypsies (Mrs. Penfold)…and she told her how to cure her. The doctor came late in the day, and Lucy was running around; there was shit everywhere. The doctor had brought Lucy’s death certificate, but he was so mad he tore it up and put it in the fire.[52]


Carl Linnaeus is cited to have claimed that "goats and swine eat this common plant freely, cows being not partial to it and horses and sheep declining to touch it, but not only are caged birds fond of it (the seeds), but its leaves and seeds afford food for many of our wild species (rabbits were given as an example)."[11] More recent studies claim that the lethal amount that cattle or horses need to consume is 7% of their body weight (example: 50 pounds (23 kg) would need to be consumed by a cow weighing 700 pounds (318 kg)). Lesser amounts cause the liver to lose function but is not apparent until the animal is stressed (by new feed or location, pregnancy, a different toxin, etc.). Sheep and goats have rumen bacteria that detoxify the alkaloids and are able to consume twice their body weight of this and other species of genus Senecio.[34][53] The alkaloids responsible are not destroyed by drying or by fermentation in silage.[9]

Introduced versus invasive[edit]

Introduced species become invasive when they compete with natives or with crops. Senecio vulgaris is not known to be a strong competitor but it has been known to reduce mint production.[54] There is evidence that it is not a strong invasive and sometimes protective of critically endangered native plants.[55]

The approximately 22 millimetres (0.87 in) long[56] pappus seeds of Senecio vulgaris, each plant capable of producing 25,000 or more seeds (1,700 seeds per plant are more likely) with three generations of the plant per year;[34] seeds that are widely dispersed by the wind,[57] have been identified as a contaminant of cereal and vegetable seeds[6] and a poison to some livestock; there is some inspiration to understand the growth stages and determine some control methods.


Cultivation with the hand or tiller is a recommended method of controlling Senecio vulgaris from growing in gardens and planting fields; cultivate to a depth of 2 inches (51 mm). The plant does prefer to take root in disturbed soils, so cultivation rids new plants but also buries and stirs up new seeds so the cultivation needs to be repeated at 14-day intervals.[9] Seeds can still mature even when the plant has been killed;[41] seed from plants cut in flower had germination levels of 35%. Groundsel seed numbers increased in soil during a two-year set-aside left fallow but not when there was a sown grass cover. The weed cannot live on grazed, trampled or mowed sites.[9]


The pathogen rust fungus or Puccinia lagenophorae and the cinnabar moth (Tyria jacobaeae) have both been used and studied in an attempt to control infestation of Senecio vulgaris.[58] One study showed that rust fungus infected Senecio vulgaris survived and actually used more of the available soil nutrients.[59] The cinnabar moth eats groundsel between June and August, but the seeds germinate and the plant grows as soon as the ground is warm enough (and after a warm rain),[15] making this an insufficient control almost everywhere groundsel can be found.[34]


Herbicides designed to control broadleaf plants are effective for controlling Senecio vulgaris in cereals and forage grasses but also will "control" broadleaf crops, such as mint, forage legumes,[54] strawberries,[60] carrots[61] and all other non-grass crops. There is also evidence that the plant develops an immunity to the chemical control.[62][63]


Groundsel seedlings with 2–6 leaves are tolerant of flame weeding but the seeds are susceptible to soil solarization.[6]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). "Plants Profile, Senecio vulgaris L." The Plants Database. United States Department of Agriculture. Retrieved 2008-01-29.
  2. ^ Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh. "Flora Europaea Search Results matching vulgaris and Senecio". Retrieved 2008-02-01.
  3. ^ a b Stace, C. A. (2010). New Flora of the British Isles (Third ed.). Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9780521707725.
  4. ^ USDA, NRCS (n.d.). "Senecio vulgaris". The PLANTS Database (plants.usda.gov). Greensboro, North Carolina: National Plant Data Team. Retrieved 10 November 2015.
  5. ^ Parnell, J. and Curtis, T. 2012. Webb's An Irish Flora. Cork University Press. ISBN 978-185918-4783
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i Hedgerowmobile. "Groundsel (Senecio vulgaris)". Species lists. Hedgerows, Hedges and Verges of Britain and Ireland. Retrieved 2008-02-05.
  7. ^ Dan Tenaglia (2007-02-08). "Senecio vulgaris L." Missouri Botanical Garden Press. Archived from the original on 2012-06-27. Retrieved 2008-02-05.
  8. ^ a b John Hilty. "Common Groundsel (Senecio vulgaris)". Illinois Wildflowers. Retrieved 2008-02-07.
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Henry Doubleday Research Association (October 2007). "Groundsel". Organic Weed Management. Garden Organic. Archived from the original on 2007-10-27. Retrieved 2008-02-05.
  10. ^ Kim, M.; Cui, M.-L.; Cubas, P.; Gillies, A.; Lee, K.; Chapman, M. A.; Abbott, R. J.; Coen, E. (2008). "Regulatory Genes Control a Key Morphological and Ecological Trait Transferred Between Species". Science. 322 (5904): 1116–1119. Bibcode:2008Sci...322.1116K. doi:10.1126/science.1164371. PMID 19008450. S2CID 206515573.
  11. ^ a b c d e M. Grieve (1931). "Groundsel, Common". A Modern Herbal. © Copyright Protected 1995-2008 Botanical.com. Retrieved 2008-02-02.
  12. ^ OMAFRA Staff (2002-06-01). "Ontario Weeds: Common groundsel". Publication 505, Ontario Weeds. Government of Ontario, Canada. Retrieved 2008-02-07.
  13. ^ O.W. Archibold; L. Wagner (2005-01-03). "Volunteer vascular plant establishment on roofs at the University of Saskatchewan". Landscape and Urban Planning. 79. Elsevier: 20–28. doi:10.1016/j.landurbplan.2006.03.001. The seeds of two species, thyme leaved spurge (Euphorbia glyptosperma) and groundsel (Senecio vulgaris), become sticky when wet and two others, ...
  14. ^ Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. "Search Results Senecio vulgaris". Seed Information Database. Board of Trustees of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Retrieved 2008-02-01.
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  17. ^ a b Gledhill, David (2008). "The Names of Plants". Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9780521866453 (hardback), ISBN 9780521685535 (paperback). pp 349, 404
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  35. ^ E. A. Bernays; T. Hartmann & R. F. Chapman (March 2004). "Gustatory responsiveness to pyrrolizidine alkaloids in the Senecio specialist, Tyria jacobaeae (Lepidoptera, Arctiidae)". Physiological Entomology. 29. Blackwell Publishing: 67–72. doi:10.1111/j.1365-3032.2004.0366.x. S2CID 84528409.
  36. ^ D. A. Mclaren; J. E. Ireson & R. M. Kwong (4–14 July 1999). "Biological Control of Ragwort (Senecio jacobaea L.) in Australia" (PDF). CRC for Weed Management Systems. X International Symposium on Biological Control of Weeds. pp. 67–79. Retrieved 2008-02-20. "Its most common host is marsh ragwort (S. aquaticus)
  37. ^ a b "ragwort seed fly". Invasive and Exotic Species. The Bugwood Network. November 9, 2004. Retrieved 2008-02-20.
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  59. ^ N. D. Paul & P. G. Ayres (1987-11-09). "Nutrient Relations of Groundsel (Senecio vulgaris) Infected by Rust (Puccinia lagenophorae) at a Range of Nutrient Concentrations II. Uptake of N, P and K and Shoot-Root Interactions". Annals of Botany Company. pp. 61: 499–506, 1988. Archived from the original on 2007-10-22. Retrieved 2008-02-03.
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  62. ^ William B. McCloskey and Jodie S. Holt; University of California, Riverside, Botany and Plant Sciences Department (April 1990). "Triazine Resistance in Senecio vulgaris Parental and Nearly Isonuclear Backcrossed Biotypes Is Correlated with Reduced Productivity". Plant Physiology. 92 (4). American Society of Plant Biologists: Vol. 92(4): pp. 954–962. doi:10.1104/pp.92.4.954. PMC 1062401. PMID 16667411. Isonuclear triazine-susceptible and triazine-resistant Senecio vulgaris L. biotypes were developed by making reciprocal crosses between susceptible and resistant biotypes....{{cite journal}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  63. ^ Michel Havaux, Society for Experimental Biology, 2005 (1989). "Comparison of Atrazine-Resistant and -Susceptible Biotypes of Senecio vulgaris L.: Effects of High and Low Temperatures on the in vivo Photosynthetic Electron Transfer in Intact Leaves". Journal of Experimental Botany. Oxford University Press. pp. Volume 40, Number 8, Pp. 849–854. Archived from the original on 2013-04-15. Retrieved 2008-02-01. The effects of temperature on the yield of in vivo modulated chlorophyll fluorescence were measured in intact leaves of atrazineresistant and -susceptible biotypes of the weed Senecio vulgaris L. ....{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link) CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)

Further reading[edit]

  • Gailing, O.; Bachmann, K. (2003). "The anthers of Senecio vulgaris (Asteraceae): saltatory evolution caught in the act". Plant Systematics and Evolution. 240 (1/4): 1–10. doi:10.1007/s00606-003-0037-7. S2CID 21374459.
  • California Native Plant Link Exchange. "Plants that Grow with Senecio vulgaris". Retrieved 2008-02-05.
  • David Fenwick (2008-01-01). "Rusts (Basidiomycota)". A photo fungi of the Devon and Cornwall peninsula. Plymouth, UK: The African Garden. Retrieved 2008-02-06.
  • L. E. Carroll; I. M. White; A. Freidberg; A. L. Norrbom; M. J. Dallwitz & F. C. Thompson (2005-07-15). "Ensina sonchi (Linnaeus)". Pest Fruit Flies of the World. Delta – description language for taxonomy. Retrieved 2008-02-08.
  • J.K. Lindsey. "Sphenella marginata (Fallén 1814) (Family Tephritidae)". Ecology of Commanster. Jim Lindsey. Archived from the original on 2012-12-20. Retrieved 2008-02-08.
  • L. E. Carroll; I. M. White; A. Freidberg; A. L. Norrbom; M. J. Dallwitz & F. C. Thompson (2005-07-15). "Trupanea stellata (Fuesslin)". Pest Fruit Flies of the World. Delta – description language for taxonomy. Retrieved 2008-02-08.
  • L. E. Carroll; I. M. White; A. Freidberg; A. L. Norrbom; M. J. Dallwitz & F. C. Thompson (2005-07-15). "Trypeta artemisiae (Fabricius)". Pest Fruit Flies of the World. Delta – description language for taxonomy. Retrieved 2008-02-08.
  • Van Eijk, J. L. (1952-01-19). "Phytochemical study of Leonurus cardiaca and Senecio vulgaris". Pharmaceutisch Weekblad. 87 (3–4): 38–41. PMID 14929684.

External links[edit]