The lone ragwort – late bee-haven

Advancing up the single track road they are. Sheep keep them out of the pasture, but they find space between fence and tarmac. A purge in the last two years set them back, then this year one appeared, parachuted in – a flowering ragwort, alone among the grass.

Flowering and soon to spread its seeds it was. So the time came for it to go ….. but just before the pull ….. ‘what’s that?’ – it was crawling with bumble bees, about 30 of them, just before nightfall, two days before the equinox. Reprieve!


The bees were active, over the flower heads or working their way down to find a secure niche for the night. The next morning, about half were gone, but the rest were still busy, legs flailing when one encroached on another.

What else might the bees feed on? All three heathers were still flowering in patches – otherwise the only flowers were on late  sneezewort Achillea ptarmica and devel’s-bit scabious Succisa pratensis.

A Weeds Act anomaly

The ragwort Senecio jacobea is poisonous to some livestock and was  considered so troublesome that it was named in the Weeds Act of 1950 along with two thistles and two docks. Landowners could be fined for allowing them to thrive.

Attentive management reduced the ragwort in arable and good pasture, but just when it faced a bleak future (as it did most other poisonous weeds in the mid-1900s), along came big roadworks and big roads offering a  refuge and then channels for advancement across the country. Now it’s one of the most visible weeds of the late summer. Once outlawed, now thriving thanks to man.

The ragwort is not all bully and brash – it settles quietly and builds its seed base in derelict field corners, waste ground and old yards. Then sends its pappus-borne seeds wherever the wind takes them.  It even advances  into higher ground as in the images above (around 300 m).


The ‘lone ragwort’ well illustrates the balance that needs to be set between what people see as the the positive and negative roles of plants. Just one poisonous plant this year, but 100 next year, against a late haven for buff-tailed bumble bees that might just raise their chance of survival over the winter.

No  decision made yet (6 October 2016) ….. but considering the evidence,  it’s likely to get pulled up soon! (Pity … I’ve become attached to it.)

By 28 October, it was still flowering but also seeding (more than it was flowering) and not a bee in sight. So out it came to stop further seeding!


The article on weeds 5000 Plants Weeds is being revised and gives more on the five Weeds Act weeds.