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Senecio L.

Senecio anonymus Wood
(= Senecio smallii Britton)
Golden or Southern ragwort
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Senecio is the largest of 1,300 genera in the family Asteraceae (sunflowers), which includes 21,000 described species (Hickman 1993). The genus includes ragworts, groundsels, butterweed, and a total of approximately 1,200 species worldwide (Porcher 1995). While the genus includes some shrubs, species of Senecio are either herbaceous perennials or winter annuals in the southeastern United States (Radford et al. 1968). A common and conspicuous perennial is Southern ragwort, Senecio anonymus, which is easily seen flowering along roadsides from April to June. Butterweed, Senacio glabellus, is an annual and reputed to be poisonous when eaten (Duncan & Foote 1975), as are other species of Senecio (Bain 1991; Clawson 1933; Kingsbury 1964). Because of their toxicity to livestock, some species are noxious weeds. Biological control using flea beetles has had considerable success at controlling Tansy Ragwort, Senecio jacobaea, a species introduced from Europe to North America that has become a problem on rangeland, particularly in the Pacific Northwest.

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Genus Senecio L. - Ragworts, butterweed, & groundsel
Family Asteraceae - Aster or sunflower family; Composites (daisies, thistles, artichokes, chrysanthemums, etc.)
Subclass Dicotyledoneae - Dicotyledons (flowering plants with two seed leaves)
Class Angiospermae - Angiosperms (flowering plants with seeds in enclosed ovary)

Discover Life in America | Flora & Fauna | Plants | Asteraceae | Senecio

Species List
Senecio aureus L. - Golden ragwort
Senecio anonymus Wood
(= Senecio smallii Britton)
- Yellow or Southern ragwort
Senecio glabellus Poiret - Butterweed
Senecio millefolium Torrey & Gray- Divided-leaf ragwort, Blue Ridge golden ragwort
Senecio obovatus Muhl. ex Willd.- Spatulate-leaved ragwort
Senecio pauperculus Michaux
Senecio robbinsii Oakes ex Rusby
Senecio rugelia Gray
Senecio tomentosus Michaux- Woolly ragwort
Senecio vulgaris L. - Common groundsel

This list is based on Radford et al. (1968), who recognize 10 species of Senecio in the Carolinas. S. anonymus updates S. smallii.

Discover Life in America | Flora & Fauna | Plants | Asteraceae | Senecio


Senecio has a worldwide distribution. Some species are widespread, others rare and localized. Some of the more widespread ones, such as Tansy ragwort, Senecio jacobaea, and Common groundsel, Senecio vulgaris, are exotic pests, having been introduced into rangeland in North America, Australia and elsewhere where they cause consider ecological and economic disruption. Other species are rare and face possible extinction. In the southeastern United States, for example, Senecio millefolium (Ragwort), Senecio plattensis (Prairie ragwort), and Senecio schweinitzianus (Robbin squaw-weed) are three such species that are either listed or under consideration for protection by state and federal authorities.

In Great Smoky Mountains National Park, three species have been documented (GSMNP checklists, as of May, 1999): Yellow ragwort (Senecio anonymus), Golden ragwort (Senecio aureus), and Spatulate-leaved ragwort (Senecio obovatus). Yellow ragwort is the most frequently encountered and occurs at both low (850 - 2,500ft) to mid (2,500 - 4,500ft) elevations. The other two species grow at low elevations, Golden ragwort being well distributed but nowhere abundant, and Spatulate-leaved ragwort growing at scattered sites throughout the park.


This page was built by John Pickering, Institute of Ecology, University of Georgia, Athens. Last revised 19 May, 1999.


Discover Life in America | Flora & Fauna | Plants | Asteraceae | Senecio