Friday 17 July 2009

A poisonous beauty

I took these photographs to capture the butterfly in my ongoing attempt to add to my ability to identify lepidoptera - currently I am confident of correctly naming two! At the same time I thought I would increase my botanical knowledge. So, instead of giving you 'a plant with flowers like yellow daisies' I would like to introduce you to Senecio jacobaea, otherwise known as Common ragwort. It was believed mistakenly that an infusion made from the plant would cure staggers, a disease affecting the brain and spinal cord of horses. Because of its supposed power it was named for Saint James, the patron saint of horses. It was also said to start flowering on 25th July, Saint James' Day.

In fact, its leaves contain an alkaloid poison. The poison also stays in plants that have been dried with hay. In this state it can be eaten by farm stock and will destroy their livers over a period of months.

'Ragwort' refers to the ragged leaves. The Scots call this plant 'stinking Billy' because it smells unpleasant when bruised. 'Billy' was William, Duke of Cumberland, who was victorious at the Battle of Culloden in 1746 and vicious in his reprisals against the Jacobites. Sweet Williams (Dianthus barbatus) are also known as 'stinking Billy'.

The butterfly is a Wall Brown (Lasiommata megera) I think but feel free to correct me if you know better. There is also a bee on the ragwort.


  1. I love the green & yellow together - it's very complimentary. And the story about the plant is very interesting.

    Thanks for sharing.

  2. I guess looks can be deceiving. Who would guess this lovely plant to be poisonous? Thanks for sharing.
    Hugs and blessings,

  3. Loved your photos but I also loved your post, found it absolutely fascinating to read. Thank you for sharing it.

  4. Thank you folks for your kind comments.

  5. Beautiful photos! Thanks for sharing!! :)


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