I spent this afternoon wrestling with my conscience while pulling up the Ragwort plants which had escaped our recent weed spraying in the big field. This is an ongoing and essential task for me as Ragwort contains a number of alkaloids which make it highly poisonous to animals and earning it a very bad reputation, particularly among those who keep horses and cattle. Having said that though, the proven instances of Ragwort poisoning are actually very rare, as fresh ragwort has a bitter taste which tends to deter most animals from eating it. But it does become much more palatable when it’s dried and can therefore be very dangerous if mixed into hay bales or left where naughty sheep like mine can find it!
|Pulling up when the plants in full flower|
is the best way to remove the roots
Ragwort is a tall and elegant plant with wonderfully golden clusters of daisy like flower heads on straight, ribbed stems and surrounded by dark green frilly edged leaves. I manage it on my land for the sake of my animals (and my equestrian neighbours), but I love to see it growing abundantly and freely where it can do little harm.
|A haven for bees|
You see in my opinion, nothing’s ever all bad, and even though Ragwort is no longer used to keep us bright eyed and bushy tailed, the plant still has a very important use. The alkaloids that make Ragwort poisonous to humans and animals are also what make it an ideal source of food for the caterpillars of the rapidly declining Cinnabar moth. By absorbing the plant’s alkaloids, these little caterpillars become distasteful to predators, a feature that they advertise by their black and yellow warning stripes. The red and black, day-flying adult moth is also distasteful to many potential predators as a result of snacking on this much maligned weed.
So, for me Ragwort is not just beautiful and deadly, it’s also a very important part of the natural environment and ecosystem. The next time you pull it, cut it, spray it or burn it, perhaps you will wrestle with your conscience too.