Along the towpath edgeland look out for ‘old man’ Simson or Uncle Sention:

‘…the flower of this herb hath white hair and when the wind bloweth it away, then it appeareth like a bald-headed man.’

Look out for the voracious Ground Glutton or shady fairytale rogues called Grundy Swallow, Grimsel, Grinsel and Grundsel.


Senecio vulgaris L. is most often known common groundsel, birdseed or chicken weed is an un-showy yet hugely prolific member of the daisy or Asteraceae family.


Common Groundsel is a survivor, and an invader, a ‘Jack-Of-All-Trades’ able to adapt to a changing environment. The level of variability within the plant depending on the amount of soil disturbance. In a frequently disturbed soil more genotypes are recorded, in a less disturbed habitat the population is more stable. It is essentially an inbreeding species and ecotypes have developed with tolerance to saline conditions, to acid rain and is demonstrating an increasing resistance to a number of herbicide groups.


It’s one of those plants which follows our insatiable disruption of the landscape. The scourge of gardeners, there’s hardly a place where it won’t spring unwelcome from freshly tilled soil.


Common Groundsel is a native annual, an ephemeral or overwintering weed, present on almost all soils and common throughout the UK in open and rough ground as well as being abundant in horticultural land and rubbish heaps. It’s a weed without boundary, overwhelming arable and horticultural crops as readily as domestic gardens.


Single, small, yellow flowers cluster into non-showy flower heads at the tip of the flowering stem. The flowerhead matures into a white puffball of downy seeds- similar to that of a dandelion. Each seed being crowned by little tufts of hairs, and dispersed by means of the wind. Groundsel is in flower all the year round and scatters an enormous amount of seed (counted in tens of thousands) during its one season of growth. One plant, if allowed to seed, being able to produce countless others in one year.

No friend of gardeners nor farmers, it acts as a host for the fungus that causes black root rot in peas, alfalfa, soybeans and carrots. Cows can be poisoned by it.


On the other hand, canaries and rabbits love it. As a child I remember it was a favourite treat for our budgerigar Joey.


Medicinally,  a weak infusion of the plant was given as a purgative, and a strong infusion as an emetic. Herbalist Culpepper describes it:

‘This herb is Venus’s mistress piece and is as gallant and universal a medicine for all diseases coming of heat, in what part of the body soever they be, as the sun shines upon: it is very safe and friendly to the body of man, yet causes vomiting if the stomach be afflicted, if not, purging. It doth it with more gentleness than can be expected: it is moist and something cold withal, thereby causing expulsion and repressing the heat caused by the motion of the internal parts in purges and vomits. The herb preserved in a syrup, in a distilled water, or in an ointment, is a remedy in all hot diseases, and will do it: first, safely; secondly, speedily.’

So perhaps not such a rogue after all?

Further Reading:


Other posts in this series can be read HERE.


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