Groundsel an abundant native, troublesome weed

By Jim Hurley - Nature Trail

Published 24/11/2015 | 00:00

Groundsel growing at the side of a gravel driveway..
Groundsel growing at the side of a gravel driveway..

Groundsel is an abundant native wild plant, a troublesome weed and a traditional green food for cage birds. Closely related to Ragwort, another troublesome weed, Groundsel is in bloom at the moment and will continue to flower throughout the winter.

Groundsel leaves are highly variable but are usually narrow and are coarsely and deeply divided into irregularly jagged and toothed lobes.

While it is a member of the big daisy family it lacks the showy petals that many daisy flowers possess. The white 'petals' that the common Daisy possesses are more correctly known as 'ray florets'. Groundsel usually lacks ray florets so the flower heads appear tubular with no spreading 'petals'. However, a rare form with short, broad ray florets is reported to occur on railway tracks and in waste ground.

The 'petals', or florets, that Groundsel does possess are yellow in colour but are inconspicuous in that they are enclosed by green, leaf-like appendages in the tubular flower head. The lowermost of these leaf-like appendages are obviously and characteristically tipped with black.

When it has finished flowering, Groundsel, like Dandelion, produces a clock bearing a large number of tiny seeds enclosed in hairy fruits.

That Groundsel is in flower at the moment comes as no surprise as the plant can flower at any time of year. It is an ephemeral, a plant marked by its short and fleeting life cycle. It is an opportunistic plant that lives life in the fast lane whenever conditions suit it best.

Groundsel belongs to the weedy ephemerals, that group of plants that have life cycles triggered by the soil being disturbed. Their seeds are the first to germinate and the young plants grow very rapidly exploiting the available resources.

Groundsel is especially common at present because it has a low tolerance of drought conditions and is frost resistant. Consequently, it comes to the fore in winter when many other plants are under pressure.

Another adaptation the plants have to suit their ephemeral lifestyle is that they produce large quantities of seed. In ideal conditions the species can produce up to three generations in the one year with many thousands of seeds dispersed so it is no wonder that Groundsel can become a troublesome weed.

At present it can be seen in flower in fields and gardens, on waste ground and in towns and cities where this winter annual colonises cracks in pavements and other unlikely spots that suit its ephemeral life cycle.

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