The ragwort is flourishing along the shoreline. Thanks to the stabilising of the sands by the marram grass, the other hardy specimens are moving in and taking over. ( Blog 09/09/2016)
The bright yellow daisy heads of the ragwort, each a sun in miniature, are home and larder to a great number of insects, grubs, flies, bees and moths. Most spectacular of these is the cinnabar moth.
On a walk along the edge of the foreshore, we found dozens of the black and yellow striped caterpillars feasting on the leaves. They absorb alkaloids from the plant which make them unpleasant to eat and saves them from predation.... and don't they advertise the fact!
Like so many unpleasant youngsters, they hatch into beautiful adults.
The leaves have an unpleasant smell which accounts for the adjective "stinking" in many of its local names including the label "Mare's fart". Anyone acquainted with horses will recognise the accuracy of that description.
John Clare, that poet of the neglected and overlooked, had a more positive opinion of the plant,
- Ragwort thou humble flower with tattered leaves
- I love to see thee come and litter gold...
- Thy waste of shining blossoms richly shields
- The sun tanned sward in splendid hues that burn
- So bright and glaring that the very light
- Of the rich sunshine doth to paleness turn
- And seems but very shadows in thy sight.
Ragwort is poisonous to horses but it is unlikely that they would graze on it as it is very bitter, however if the dry leaves get into hay they can cause liver damage. Presumably it is because of this that it is included in the list of Noxious Weeds required to be controlled.
"Noxious Weeds" has connotations of morality and impropriety, as though the ragwort had set out to be wicked and yet it provides a home and food source to more than seventy insect species. Thirty of these species use ragwort exclusively as their food source.
Jacobaea vulgaris, to give it its full title is a valuable addition to the foreshore as it joins the campions, the thistles and the willow-herbs in colonising the sands
The opposite is true of the gaudily attractive Himalayan Balsam with its orchid like flowers. The seed pods explode to the touch and spray their contents far and wide. It is dreadfully invasive and it is truly an offence to allow it to grow. It has arrived on our beach via the small burn that trickles down to the sea.
I only hope the local council, if and when they get round to eradicating it, do not kill off the native species colonising the dunes and providing such a valuable habitat but I am not optimistic.