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April 2006: Featured Plant
Packera aurea (Senecio aureus): Golden Ragwort

Packera aurea (Senecio aureus) plants
Packera aurea (Senecio aureus) flowers

One of the nicest plants that flower in early spring and is exceptionally valuable throughout the year. It is evergreen, persisting throughout most of the year as an attractive basal rosette of dark-green, heart-shaped leaves. Its floral stems are only about 1.5 ft tall. It spreads from seed and probably from underground stems, forming dense colonies. Does well in shade and part sun. Should be a great ground cover in a variety of soils and sunlight.

Most of the New World species in the genus Senecio, the Ragworts and the Groundsels, have been moved into the genus Packera, named after John Packer at the University of Alberta, Canada. He’s done a lot of the work teasing out the relationships within the Senecioneae, the groundsel tribe, a subfamily taxon containing several species in the Asteraceae (Aster Family). It appears that most of the species remaining in Senecio are those native to Europe. The genus, and these species were named first and would have priority. Later New World discoveries have to be put into another genus because they are now known not to belong in the related Old World Senecio.

The same thing happened with asters. Once all in the genus Aster, now New World asters are grouped in a number of different genera like Doelleringia for the whitetops, Eucephalus, Eurybia, and the large genus Symphyotrichum.

I don’t find any culinary uses for ragwort, but I have a neat version of “Culpeper’s Color Herbal” by Nicholas Culpeper, the 17th century astrologer and herbalist. This is for Senecio jacobaea, Stinking Willie, so it probably doesn’t relate reliably to the New World species of ragwort:
"It cleanses, digests, and discusses."
It goes on and on. If there’s anything more charmingly bewildering than 300-year-old archaic language, it could only be 21st century scientific name changes.

Mostly used now for external ointments and infusions for ulcers and wounds. Like comfrey, it probably damages the liver after extended use.

Images by Wayne Hughes ©