Monday, July 26, 2010

Common Ragwort

Common Ragwort (Senecio jacobaea)

Common Ragwort (Senecio jacobaea)

Today did not start out well.

I don't often hear from my brothers or sisters but I did get a message this morning. It was from my older brother. He had written a brief missive earlier in the year that went something along these lines:
Found squirrel in your house. Poop everywhere. Living room curtains shredded. Cornered him in your bedroom. Killed with baseball bat.

I don't like messages from that brother.

This morning's surprise was accompanied by a photo of what was once my yard and is now a jungle. It went something like this:
Sassafras seedlings have taken over your lawn and gardens. Okay if I poison?

It can be really difficult to be an ocean away from my family, friends, and home - especially when news like this makes me want to take the first flight back to the states to put things right. I can't imagine spraying poison anywhere near my flowers or vegetable garden and hope that someone will make the effort to cut back the sassafras, keep it cut back, and leave poison out of it.

The English countryside has its calming effects but even after a walk with the dogs, the best I can come up with today to write about is Ragwort.

I first noticed Ragwort on Walney earlier this month. I'm seeing more of it on my walks here in Pennington but it's not common. A beautiful yellow but not much else going for it.

I keep thinking about a conversation that took place last week. I was asked about the difference (if any) between "knowledge" and "information" and somewhere in the chit-chat this rhetorical question was posed: "How do you know?"

It didn't seem much to me at the time but that simple question has risen to the top of my consciousness more than once or twice since. Indeed. What a great way to assess the difference between fact and opinion. How do I know? How do I know that the plant I encountered was a Common Ragwort? There was no accompanying label. There are plants that look quite similar with yellow daisy-like flowers and green toothed leaves. How do I know?

That prompts me to think about the purpose of this blog and that is simply to remind me of my travels and the flowers along the way. It doesn't matter to me that I'm not an expert at identifying wildflowers. But it would be helpful to me to detail other identifying characteristics that aren't always apparent in a photograph or two. Things like habitat, time of year, type of stem, smell, and so many other things that distinguish one species from another. If I did that, I'd be a bit more confident about my identification skills. (For example, in determining a species of St. John's Wort it's helpful to look at the stems - are they square? That's not easy to assess from a photograph.)

So I'll begin today.

How do I know?
Confidence level: ★★★★☆
Habitat: Roadside along pastures (cattle, horses); within 1/4 mile of coast.
Leaves: Pinnatifid (shape is like pinnatisect but not as deeply cut to the midrib)
Stem: round, not hairy, upright, top half is branched
Insects observed: soldier beetles
Flower: composite, bright yellow
Bloom: July
Odor: none

Common Ragwort (Senecio jacobaea) Soldier Beetles snacking on Common Ragwort (Senecio jacobaea)

Update 27July2010
: Last night at the theatre we watched "Inception" which brought to mind the "How do you know?" question (again). Perhaps the juxtaposition isn't between fact and opinion but between reality and dreams.

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