I am showing drawings and a little bit of writing about the flowers that I draw.
There’s a lot of nonsense talked about common ragwort. Firstly, that it is an invader. It is not. I’ll come to that. Secondly that it is a noxious weed that has no place in our tidy landscape. It is noxious - it contains alkaloids that would harm the liver. This is why rabbits avoid it. Horses can die if they eat it. Mostly they don’t. If the plant is sprayed with herbicide and dried along with the hay, then it is less recognisable and can be eaten by mistake.
In the UK, where the plant is native, Ragwort provides a home and food source to at least 77 insect species. Thirty of these species of invertebrate use Ragwort exclusively as their food source and there are another 22 species where Ragwort forms a significant part of their diet.
The species of ragwort that is an invader, a ‘foreigner’, a ‘johnny come lately’ is called Oxford Ragwort. It arrived here from the volcanic region of Sicily. Famously, it was introduced to the Oxford Botanical Garden (c.1794) and escaped. It was helped along by the introduction of the railway “wafted on by the slipstream of the trains” (Richard Mabey). It found a home in the rubble of the bombed out areas of London and went on to colonise most of Britain.
Here’s one you can eat. Apparently the stalks (whilst a little bitter) are a good source of vitamins A, C and some B. The roots can be eaten if boiled. I love this plant. The colour is an amazing addition to summer. Famously this was the plant that grew on the bombed out areas of London and was seen as a sign of hope and regrowth. There is some discussion about this Willowherb. Is it native or non-native? Does it matter? It has settled here well and if it is an invader, again, it is a food source for many insects. Including the Elephant Hawkmoth, which is almost as pink as the flowers. In London we are welcoming to strangers and they settle here. We are the better for it. Our food source is now more interesting and life itself – it’s more fascinating and less grey.