Ragwort is a pretty yellow flower related to sunflowers, and you’ve probably seen some growing in a field or verge: it’s certainly been pretty common in West London this year.

Senecio jacobaea 20070603w

What you’ve probably heard about Ragwort is that it is toxic to horses, and maybe even heard that it’s harmful to humans… but wait; is this fact or myth?

When Richard Benyon MP, minister for the Natural Environment and Fisheries, posted on his Facebook page “I hate ragwort. It may not be the issue of the moment but I am on the warpath for those who let this vile weed spread.”, he unleashed a whole lot of fact from ecologists, biologists and bio-diversity fans.

You see, it turns out that Ragwort, far from being a “vile weed” is, well, just another native wild plant, complete with an ecosystem role, supporting a host of creatures. Sure, it is poisonous to horses, if they eat it unknowingly in hay, and you’d not want to eat it yourself (nor would you want to drink Comfrey tea, for the same reason: Pyrrolizidine alkaloids), but the point here is that you can’t just pick on a plant or animal with some (human-centrically) undesirable attribute and pluck it from the world, without causing a chain of knock-on ecosystem effects, and loosing a lot more than just a pesky flower.

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