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Heath Groundsel

Senecio sylvaticus

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Plant Profile

Flowering Months:
Asteraceae (Daisy)
Also in this family:
Alpine Blue Sow-thistle, Alpine Cotula, Alpine Fleabane, Alpine Saw-wort, Annual Ragweed, Annual Sunflower, Argentine Fleabane, Autumn Hawkbit, Autumn Oxeye, Beaked Hawksbeard, Beggarticks, Bilbao Fleabane, Black Knapweed, Black-eyed Susan, Blanketflower, Blue Fleabane, Blue Globe-thistle, Bristly Oxtongue, Broad-leaved Cudweed, Broad-leaved Ragwort, Brown Knapweed, Butterbur, Buttonweed, Cabbage Thistle, Canadian Fleabane, Canadian Goldenrod, Carline Thistle, Chalk Knapweed, Chamois Ragwort, Changing Michaelmas Daisy, Chicory, Chinese Mugwort, Chinese Ragwort, Coltsfoot, Common Blue Sow-thistle, Common Cat's-ear, Common Cudweed, Common Daisy, Common Dandelion, Common Fleabane, Common Goldenrod, Common Groundsel, Common Michaelmas Daisy, Common Mugwort, Common Ragwort, Common Wormwood, Coneflower, Confused Michaelmas Daisy, Corn Chamomile, Corn Marigold, Cornflower, Cotton Thistle, Cottonweed, Creeping Thistle, Daisy Bush, Dwarf Cudweed, Dwarf Thistle, Early Goldenrod, Eastern Groundsel, Eastern Leopardsbane, Elecampane, English Hawkweed, Fen Ragwort, Feverfew, Field Fleawort, Field Wormwood, Fox and Cubs, French Tarragon, Gallant Soldier, Garden Lettuce, Giant Butterbur, Glabrous-headed Hawkweed, Glandular Globe-thistle, Glaucous Michaelmas Daisy, Globe Artichoke, Globe-thistle, Goat's Beard, Golden Ragwort, Golden Samphire, Goldilocks Aster, Grass-leaved Goldenrod, Great Lettuce, Greater Burdock, Greater Knapweed, Grey-headed Hawkweed, Guernsey Fleabane, Hairless Blue Sow-thistle, Hairless Leptinella, Hairy Michaelmas Daisy, Harpur Crewe's Leopardsbane, Hawkweed Oxtongue, Heath Cudweed, Hemp Agrimony, Highland Cudweed, Hoary Mugwort, Hoary Ragwort, Hybrid Knapweed, Intermediate Burdock, Irish Fleabane, Jersey Cudweed, Jerusalem Artichoke, Lance-leaved Hawkweed, Lavender-cotton, Leafless Hawksbeard, Least Lettuce, Leopardplant, Leopardsbane, Leptinella, Lesser Burdock, Lesser Hawkbit, Lesser Sunflower, London Bur-marigold, Magellan Ragwort, Marsh Cudweed, Marsh Hawksbeard, Marsh Ragwort, Marsh Sow-thistle, Marsh Thistle, Meadow Thistle, Melancholy Thistle, Mexican Fleabane, Milk Thistle, Mountain Everlasting, Mouse-ear Hawkweed, Musk Thistle, Narrow-leaved Cudweed, Narrow-leaved Hawkweed, Narrow-leaved Michaelmas Daisy, Narrow-leaved Ragwort, New England Hawkweed, New Zealand Holly, Nipplewort, Nodding Bur-marigold, Northern Hawksbeard, Norwegian Mugwort, Oxeye Daisy, Oxford Ragwort, Pearly Everlasting, Perennial Cornflower, Perennial Ragweed, Perennial Sow-thistle, Perennial Sunflower, Pineapple Mayweed, Plantain-leaved Leopardsbane, Ploughman's Spikenard, Plymouth Thistle, Pontic Blue Sow-thistle, Pot Marigold, Prickly Lettuce, Prickly Sow-thistle, Purple Coltsfoot, Rayed Tansy, Red Star Thistle, Red-seeded Dandelion, Red-tipped Cudweed, Robin's Plantain, Roman Chamomile, Rough Cocklebur, Rough Hawkbit, Rough Hawksbeard, Russian Lettuce, Safflower, Salsify, Saw-wort, Scented Mayweed, Scentless Mayweed, Sea Aster, Sea Mayweed, Sea Wormwood, Seaside Daisy, Shaggy Mouse-ear Hawkweed, Shaggy Soldier, Shasta Daisy, Shetland Mouse-ear Hawkweed, Shrub Ragwort, Sicilian Chamomile, Silver Ragwort, Slender Mugwort, Slender Thistle, Small Cudweed, Small Fleabane, Smooth Cat's-ear, Smooth Hawksbeard, Smooth Sow-thistle, Sneezeweed, Sneezewort, Spear Thistle, Spotted Cat's-ear, Spotted Hawkweed, Sticky Groundsel, Stinking Chamomile, Stinking Hawksbeard, Tall Fleabane, Tall Mouse-ear Hawkweed, Tansy, Thin-leaved Sunflower, Treasureflower, Trifid Bur-marigold, Tuberous Thistle, Tyneside Leopardplant, Viper's Grass, Wall Lettuce, Welsh Groundsel, Welted Thistle, White African Daisy, White Butterbur, White Buttons, Willdenow's Leopardsbane, Winter Heliotrope, Wood Burdock, Wood Ragwort, Woody Fleabane, Woolly Thistle, Yarrow, Yellow Chamomile, Yellow Fox and Cubs, Yellow Oxeye, Yellow Star Thistle, Yellow Thistle, York Groundsel
Life Cycle:
Maximum Size:
50 centimetres tall
Fields, heathland, meadows, roadsides, sea cliffs, wasteland, woodland.

Yellow, no petals
The yellow flowerheads are stalked, up to 5mm wide. The ray florets curl backwards, usually unlike those of the similar-looking shorter plant, Common Groundsel. The bracts are narrow and purple-tipped. Heath Groundsel flowerheads are more conical than those of Common Groundsel.
Ridged, brown and cylindrical achene with a pappus, up to 1 inch long.
An annual flower with narrowly lanceolate leaves and more deeply and irregular lobes than Common Groundsel. The leaves are alternate and short-stalked, however the upper leaves are stalkless. The leaf lobes are sparsely toothed and have entire margins. Heath Groundsel is a stickily downy plant.
Smells slightly foetid.
Other Names:
Mountain Common Groundsel, Mountain Groundsel, Wood Groundsel, Woodland Groundsel, Woodland Ragwort.
Frequency (UK):
Occasionally seen  

Other Information


Senecio sylvaticus, also known as wood groundsel or woodland groundsel, is a species of flowering plant in the daisy family. It is native to Europe and is commonly found in woodlands and other shaded areas. It has small, yellow flowers that bloom from late spring to early summer. The plant is a perennial herb and can reach a height of up to 50cm. The leaves are lobed and the basal leaves are long-stalked. It can be distinguished from other similar species by its long, narrow leaves and its preference for wooded habitats. It is also considered to be poisonous if ingested.


Heath Groundsel, also known as Senecio sylvaticus, is a herbaceous plant species that belongs to the family Asteraceae. It is commonly found in Europe, particularly in the United Kingdom, where it thrives in heathland, grassland, and woodland habitats.

Physical Description

Heath Groundsel is a small annual or biennial plant that typically grows to a height of 10-50cm. It has a slender stem with few branches, and the leaves are alternate, elliptical, and lobed. The plant produces bright yellow flowers that are arranged in clusters at the end of the branches. The flowers have numerous ray florets surrounding the central disk florets, and they bloom from May to September.

Ecological Importance

Heath Groundsel plays an important role in the ecosystem as it provides food and shelter for various insects and small mammals. The flowers are an important nectar source for bees, butterflies, and other pollinators, while the seeds are eaten by small birds such as finches and siskins. The plant also contributes to soil health by fixing nitrogen in the soil and preventing erosion.

Cultural Significance

In traditional medicine, Heath Groundsel has been used to treat various ailments such as coughs, fever, and digestive problems. However, it is important to note that the plant contains toxic alkaloids that can cause poisoning in large doses. Therefore, it is not recommended for medicinal purposes.

Conservation Status

Heath Groundsel is considered to be a common plant species in the United Kingdom and Europe. However, the destruction of heathland and grassland habitats due to human activities such as land use changes and urbanization has resulted in a decline in its population. Therefore, it is important to protect and conserve these habitats to ensure the survival of Heath Groundsel and other plant species.

Heath Groundsel is a small but important plant species that plays a vital role in the ecosystem. Its bright yellow flowers and contribution to soil health make it an important part of the natural world. As we continue to interact with our environment, it is essential to recognize and protect these valuable plant species.

Heath Groundsel has also been used for centuries in traditional folklore and beliefs. In some cultures, it was believed that Heath Groundsel had magical properties and could be used to ward off evil spirits. It was also thought to bring good luck and fortune to those who carried it.

The plant's name, "Groundsel," comes from the Old English word "grundeswylige," which means "ground swallower." This name refers to the plant's ability to quickly colonize and dominate disturbed or bare ground, which can make it an important part of ecological restoration efforts.

Heath Groundsel is not only important for its ecological and cultural significance but also for its potential use in modern medicine. Studies have shown that some compounds found in the plant, such as flavonoids and sesquiterpene lactones, have antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties. These compounds could potentially be used to develop new drugs to treat bacterial and inflammatory diseases.

Heath Groundsel is a small but mighty plant with a rich history and a significant role in the ecosystem. Its traditional uses, ecological importance, and potential medical applications make it a valuable species that deserves our attention and protection. As we continue to explore and understand the natural world around us, we must strive to protect and conserve the many plant species, like Heath Groundsel, that make up our environment.

Heath Groundsel has also been used in horticulture as an ornamental plant. Its bright yellow flowers and interesting foliage make it a popular choice for rock gardens, borders, and other decorative landscapes. However, it is important to note that Heath Groundsel can be invasive in some areas, particularly where the soil is disturbed, and can crowd out native plants. As such, it is recommended that the plant be grown with care and under controlled conditions.

Additionally, Heath Groundsel is part of a larger group of plants called the Senecio genus, which includes over 1,500 species worldwide. While some species within the genus, such as Ragwort (Senecio jacobaea), are considered invasive and potentially toxic to livestock, others are used in traditional medicine or horticulture. Understanding the diversity and ecology of the Senecio genus, including Heath Groundsel, can help us better appreciate the importance of plant diversity in our ecosystems.

Heath Groundsel's ability to thrive in a variety of soil types, from sandy to clay, and in different levels of sunlight, makes it an adaptable and resilient plant. This adaptability, combined with its quick growth and ability to reproduce prolifically through its numerous tiny seeds, contributes to its success in colonizing disturbed areas.

However, as mentioned earlier, Heath Groundsel can also become invasive and compete with native plants, especially in areas where the soil is frequently disturbed or in habitats that have been altered by human activities. For this reason, it is important to monitor and manage its population in areas where it is not native.

In addition to its ecological and cultural importance, Heath Groundsel has also been studied for its potential use in phytoremediation. Phytoremediation is a process in which plants are used to remove pollutants, such as heavy metals, from the soil. Studies have shown that Heath Groundsel can absorb and accumulate heavy metals such as copper, cadmium, and lead, making it a potentially useful plant for remediation of contaminated soils.

In conclusion, Heath Groundsel is a fascinating and versatile plant species with numerous ecological, cultural, and potential medical applications. Its adaptability and resilience make it an important part of our natural world, and its potential use in phytoremediation demonstrates the many ways in which plants can be used to solve environmental problems. By appreciating and protecting the many plant species that make up our ecosystems, we can better understand and care for our planet.


Heath Groundsel filmed in Great Langdale, Cumbria on the 2nd September 2023.


Music credits
The Master by Audionautix is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license.

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Distribution Map

Reproduced by kind permission of the BSBI.

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