Thursday, July 8, 2010

The silvery ragwort plant

Silvery ragwort (Senecio bicolor)

Summer started officially two days ago but the weather is still relatively cool and it is still possible to walk in the countryside, especially in early morning, without feeling too hot. 

At this time of the year one can find several interesting species of late-flowering plants as well as insects. It is worth waking up earlier to see them.

One of these is the silvery ragwort, a perennial plant that has silver felt-like leaves. It starts flowering in mid-spring but in early summer you can find larger numbers in flower. It is a native of the Mediterranean region also known as dusty miller. 

Its Maltese name is kromb il-ba─žar

It is common in wasteland especially close to the coast. It is a poisonous plant but has been used medicinally to reduce anxiety and as an antispasmodic.

The yellow, daisy-like flowers create a wonderful contrast to its leaves. The plants grow to a height of 60cm and bear the flowers in dense flat-topped clusters. Each flower has a centre of disc florets surrounded by conspicuous, well-separated ray florets.

The silvery ragwort belongs to the aster family (Asteraceae) which in earlier times was known as the composite family (Compositeae). In more familiar words it belongs to the daisy family. This is the largest family of plants with more than 22,750 species. Most of the species are herbaceous plants. These are plants that have leaves and stems that die down at the end of the growing season to the soil level. These plants are especially common in open and dry environments.

The name Asteraceae is derived from the word aster, which is a Greek term, meaning "star".
Many essential products are derived from the daisy family these include cooking oils, lettuce, sunflower seeds and artichokes. Many popular gardening plants such as the marigolds, chrysanthemums, dahlias and zinnias are members of this large family.

This article appeared in the Times 23.06.10

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