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What is Senecio?

By S. Williams
Updated: May 16, 2024

One of the largest groups of flowering plants, the Senecio genus is part of the Asteraceae family of plants. Commonly known as groundsels, ragworts, and daisies, this genus includes over 1,500 species of perennials, annuals, and other plants that have natural habitats all over the world. There are even a few shrubs and small trees that are classified in the Senecio genus. The flowering plants feature clusters of blooms at the top of the plants in white, yellow, red, or purple colors. Although most of the flowers are considered weeds, many of them are planted in gardens for their ornamental value.

Most Senecio plants thrive in direct sunlight and grow best in well-draining soil. Their seeds should be planted in the early spring for late summer cuttings. The most common disease that attacks these flowering plants is rust, a fungal disease.

Senecio elegans, also known as greater purple ragwort or red purple daisy, is an annual herb that displays a daisy-like flower with a bright yellow center surrounded by eight to ten purple petals. Although many gardeners plant this flower for its colorful display, it quickly becomes invasive as the seeds are easily distributed by the wind. The yellow centers attract bees and beetles that pollinate the flower. After pollination, the flower quickly turns to a fluffy, white seed-head that is easily carried away through the air.

Life root, or Senecio aureus, is a perennial wildflower that has been used in the past for medicinal purposes. It produces small yellow flowers and is also easily propagated as its seeds are carried with the wind. Historically, it has been used for a variety of gynecological issues including easing the pain of childbirth, speeding labor, and regulating menstrual cycles. Life root was also used to attempt to relieve symptoms of tuberculosis, urinary tract infections, and kidney stones. This herb also goes by other names including false valerian, golden Senecio, and squaw weed.

Dusty miller, or Senecio cineraria, grows in a low, mound-like formation with silvery-gray foliage to attract the eye instead of flowers. While the dusty miller does produce very small, mustard-yellow blooms if it lives into a second year, this rarely happens and most gardeners never see the flowers. This plant is native to the Mediterranean region, but can grow in any area with warm, dry summers and cool, wet winters. This Senecio can be propagated by seed or cuttings.

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