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Groundsel the Ground Swallower

Updated on August 7, 2015

Notes from a Lancashire Countryman

Groundsel is a common plant of the Asteraceae family and are placed in the genus Senecio, and are closely related to the Ragwort, { a subject of a previous hub}. Even if one is unaware of its name many people will have encountered the species. Common groundsel Senecio vulagris tenants a variety of habitat and is common weed of gardens and in particular allotments. The flowering period is almost constant and only prolonged spells of frost will deter them from doing so.

The name groundsel is thought to derive from the Anglo-Saxon grondeswelge which translates as ground swallower alluding to their ability to spread rapidly.

Groundsel will grow easily on waste or cultivated land

The small flowers and the seed plumes can clearly be seen on this common groundsel
The small flowers and the seed plumes can clearly be seen on this common groundsel | Source


The annual root system is formed of whitish fibrous growth which send up erect stems 15-30 cm in height which are apt to branch near the top. These are terminated by small clusters of tiny flower heads. The flower heads are composed of tubular florets that are surrounded by over lapping bracts . They have been likened to the shape of miniature shaving brushes. These flowers are succeeded by a white pappus which carry the seeds away from the parent plant in a parachute manner a favoured method of seed disposal for many species of this large family of flowering plants.

The genus name of Senecio, from Latin alluding to "old man" referring to the white pappus {plume}.

The folaige are oblong and clasping at the base of a dull green colour which are deeply cut into{ Botanist term this as being pinnatifid }, with irregular, blunt toothed lobes. It has been said that they have a superficial resemblance to the leaf of an oak tree.

White pappus or seed plumes

The white pappus give rise to the genus name.
The white pappus give rise to the genus name. | Source

Medicinal Uses

The seeds of groundsel are readily taken by birds, and because the seeds are available during the barren winter months they are a good source of nourishment at this time. Rabbits eat the foliage with relish.

Groundsel has long been used in herbal medicine. It was recommended that the whole plant was harvested in May when the foliage were thought to be in their prime. it was then dried. A juice was extracted from the fresh plant. the plant is said to be purgative, diuretic and antiscorbutic among other properties associated with it. it times gone by it was employed as a poultice and applied to the stomach. A weak infusion was said to be beneficial in alleviating bilious afflictions. John Gerard the 16th century herbalist stated that the down {pappus} of the flower being mixed with vinegar was a good dressing to apply to wounds.

I recall from the days of my youth that my grandmother made an infusion of Groundsel which she applied to chapped hands. The fresh plant being infused with boiling water. the resulting liquid formed a pleasant lotion for the skin and was effective at removing roughness.

Basic Biology of Groundsel.

Groundsel as a species may continue to flower and set seed for many months, but most seeds are set from May-October. It is estimated that groundsel produces 12-13,000 seeds per plant. Studies have revealed that seedlings germinate within a few days of being shed when growing conditions remain favourable. seedling emergence generally occurs from February until December, however, the main peak is between June and October. The seedlings are frost tolerant.

Groundsel completes its life cycle in about 5-6 weeks. Luckily for gardeners this weed can easily be removed by simply pulling it from the ground, and regular hoeing will restrict its spread. This has to be an ongoing occupation as new seeds regularly parachute in.

Cinnabar moth caterpillars, noted for feeding on ragwort, also feed on the leaves of groundsel.

Caterpillars on the related Ragwort

cinnabar moth caterpillars seen here feeding on ragwort also feed on the foliage of groundsel
cinnabar moth caterpillars seen here feeding on ragwort also feed on the foliage of groundsel | Source

Other Groundsel species occur

Several other species of groundsel occur in Britain. These include the welsh groundsel Senecio cambrensis, which is a hybrid between the common goundsel and Oxford ragwort. This species has become established in north Wales and around Edinburgh Scotland. Although established they are quite rare.

Sticky or stinking groundsel,Senecio viscosus as the common name suggests is a bushy densely sticky-hairy annual which is found on railway ballast, waste ground, roadsides and coastal shingle beaches. It is wide spread through the country but tends to be local in distribution.

Groundsel species

heath groundsel
heath groundsel | Source
this species is widespread but local in distribution
this species is widespread but local in distribution | Source

Heath groundsel

Heath groundsel or wood groundsel Senecio sylvestris is encountered in woodland and on damp heaths.

Groundsel along with the ragworts make this an interesting genus of the Asteraceae family of flowering plants.

Components of the common groundsel

Components of the common groundsel
Components of the common groundsel


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    • D.A.L. profile image

      Dave 7 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      Hi, jill, thank you so much for taking the time to do that it is much appreciated.Best wishes to you my friend.

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      jill of alltrades 7 years ago from Philippines

      Wow, congrats Dave!

      I already signed out and then saw the notice that you won an award so I checked back. As always, a well-written hub. Really well deserved award!

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      Dave 7 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      agvulpes, thank you so much your comments are heartening and appreciated. Thank you for your congratulations.Best wishes to you.

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      Peter 7 years ago from Australia

      D.A.L. Hearty congratulations on winning the Top of the Class Contest. It is a Hub full of information and a joy to read. The images are also first class.:-)

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      Dave 7 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      SimonSmith, thank you so much for informing me of this. I am delighted and very surprised. However, I must confess I do not know what this entails.Thank once again for your congratulations.

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      Simone Haruko Smith 7 years ago from San Francisco

      Congrats, D.A.L.! This Hub won the HubPages Top of the Class Contest for week 3!!

    • D.A.L. profile image

      Dave 7 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      travelespresso Thank you for your welcome and encouraging comments. Best wishes to you.

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      travelespresso 7 years ago from Somewhere in this exciting world.

      This is an awesome hub. Well done and congrats on your nomination.

    • shazwellyn profile image

      shazwellyn 7 years ago from Great Britain

      Wow - this is a really comprehensive article! I thought ragwort was dangerous to some animals - is this right? If this is the case, and groundsel is related to ragwort, is it also dangerous?

      Congratulations on your nomination - I have voted up and labelled it useful! :)

    • D.A.L. profile image

      Dave 7 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      darski- I can imagine the expletives you used. At least it entertained the neighbors. Thank you for reading and for leaving your usual welcome comments. Love and best wishes to you and yours.

    • Darlene Sabella profile image

      Darlene Sabella 7 years ago from Hello, my name is Toast and Jam, I live in the forest with my dog named Sam ...

      Oh my dear dear friend, I do have my own word for this nasty plants, LOL I am sure you would not be interested in hearing about it...I remember one year I had this perfect lawn and this tool just to remove this *(^()_ plants, every evening during the summer my neighbors would see me spead out on my lawn removing one at a time until they were NO more. Thank you for you fabulous hub and I rate this one up up and up even darski

    • D.A.L. profile image

      Dave 7 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      thoughtforce, thank you for leaving your kind comments. Best wishes to you.

      2uesday, many species of wild flora produce an amazing amount of seeds, however, it depends on their distribution and germination success. Unfortunately groundsel tends to have a high percentage of germination success. However, regular hoeing on your allotment, especially before they set seed, will be beneficial to you.Thank you for your visit and for taking the time to comment. Best wishes to you.

    • 2uesday profile image

      2uesday 7 years ago

      Interesting how many seeds from one plant, I have a few of these to pull up on the allotment. I guess after reading this that I will have many more growing by next spring. I cannot often put a name to plants but after reading your hubs I have always gained more knowledge about them. Thank you.

    • thougtforce profile image

      Christina Lornemark 7 years ago from Sweden

      It seems as if you can manage to even make the weeds look beautiful:) Although, they are quite easy to pull up, I sometimes think they are to much for my garden! Thanks for the info, especially interesting to read thatgroundsel is used as herbal medicine!