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Golden Ragwort: terrible name, beautiful plant

Golden Ragwort in bloom at Bartram's Garden

Golden Ragwort in bloom at Bartram’s Garden

 

What’s In Bloom:  Golden Ragwort

(Senecio aureus or Packera aurea)

Yesterday, while visiting Bartram’s Garden in Philadelphia, I happened upon several patches of Golden Ragwort and snapped these photos.

John Bartram, who was one of the very first North American botanists and nurserymen, lived in the city of Brotherly Love when Ben Franklin was there, too.  He studied plants of the New World, wrote about them, and often shipped them to his powerful friends and acquaintances in England.  His records form some of the most detailed first accounts of those plants we now call native, and his former house and garden are now maintained as National Historic Landmarks.   Its a great place to visit if you love native plants or colonial history.

Golden Ragwort, which is one of those native plants,  is also in full bloom around the DC Metro area right now.

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Despite its awful sounding name, this is a really beautiful native.  The hearty leaves make a multi-season ground cover along shady hillsides, and during the month of April the stems poke out to hold dainty yellow flowers a few inches aloft above the ground in bright yellow drifts.

This is a great bee plant — its early blooms attract many different species.

It is also a useful plant in urban areas — a good substitute for non-native ground covers like English Ivy which might have formerly been used in the shady root zones of large trees.

Unlike other spring blooming natives, this one is not ephemeral.  Those leaves continue to make a thick rug along areas of dappled sunshine for the remainder of the growing season and are great for blocking out weeds.  I find in my garden they also make great hiding places for toads, and supposedly it is somewhat distasteful to deer and other mammals.

Golden ragwort likes dappled sunshine best and struggles a bit in full sun areas.  One warning, however:  this plant can get thuggish, so it is not the best plant for formal gardens or mixed perennial beds.  Put it where it can stretch out cover large areas and ramble freely.

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Makes an excellent companion plant for native violets, white wood asters, and ferns.

For more info you can check out this great USDA document on the plant.

You might also enjoy these postings:

Native Plants at the Phildelphia Flower Show (which includes info about John Bartram) 

City Wildlife Gardening, What to Know Before You Get Started

Native Plant Database for the Chesapeake Bay Region Now Online

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