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Ragwort / Senecio Jacobaea / G. buaghallan

Common Ragwort, Senecio jacobaea- is a flowering biennial, native to the UK. It is often standing conspicuously and proudly above other farm and meadow plants, as it is not usually eaten by animals (being poisonous to horses and cows). It is believed that ragwort was spread around the country by English troops after the Jacobite rebellion. Its name ('stinking willie') refers to William, Duke of Cumberland, who became known by his title, “Butcher Cumberland” due to his barbarous tactics against the Scots rebels. It was presumed that to weaken the rebels, he advised to mix ragwort seeds in the rebels' horses fodder.

Photograph by Magdalena Choluj

In gardens, ragwort can be a welcome food source for many insects and a cheerful addition to a flower-rich meadow, provided this is not near paddocks grazed by horses and livestock. According to the Wildlife Trust ragwort is one of the most frequently visited flowers by butterflies in the UK and more than 200 species of invertebrate have been recorded on it. The distinctive yellow and black striped caterpillars of the Cinnabar moth are often seen feeding on its foliage.

In the Hebrides ragwort was used in the children's game Goid a' Chruin, recorded in Gaelic in 1953:

' We played it during the interval at school when I was a little boy. You had always to be on a level piece of ground...we had an excellent stretch of green sward a short distance from the school, and we gathered there. And it was always in autumn that this game was played because we had a sort of plant that was very common then, we call it buaghallan in Gaelic. And that was plucked out by the roots, and two rows were set up on the green; boys and girls were in each row. An Crun (the Crown) was one of those buaghallans, one of those plants. It was thrown there on neutral territory between the two ranks and the person who was successful in breaking through and taking up the crown and right down...round, circling their opponents, and right round and coming back, without being caught, that person was successful. But he always had to give the next, his companion, a chance, and he himself just looked on. But if he was caught with the baughallan, with the crown, by his opponents he had to go outside the camp, and he was called a cnoimhags (maggot!). Now the side that had more failures (or more cnoimhags) was the side that lost, and the row that had less, of course, was the one that was successful.' ('Vickery's Folk Flora' - Roy Vickery, 2019, based on Bennett, 1991 : 51)

In the Scottish Highlands and Islands ragwort used to be cut for baskets as a courser alternative to other grasses, and its flowers and stems were widely used for wool dyeing.


'Flora Celtica, Plants and People in Scotland' - W.Milliken & S.Bridgewater, 2013

'Healing Threads, Traditional Medicines Of The Highlands and Islands' - M.Beith, 2018

'New Flora Of The British Isles'' - 2nd edition, Clive Stace, 1997

'Vickery's Folk Flora' - Roy Vickery, 2019

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