Senecio aureus

erikspictures265Senecio aureaus, ( renamed Packera aurea) is a plant we love and grow here at the nursery. Two common names for Senecio are Golden Ragwort and Liferoot, the latter referring to its long history in medicinal use. An indigenous perennial, Senecio is in the Asteraceae family and is hardy from zones 3-9. It prefers moist soil and a shady location. Here in Maine, earlier in warmer climates, it blooms in late May to early June and holds its blooms for an extended period. We find it to be a great native flower for attracting butterflies and pollinators. The deep golden yellow daisy-like flowers grow atop sparsely leafed stems that are 1-2 feet tall. At the base of these stems, lie the shiny heart-shaped evergreen leaves. This basal foliage can remain an attractive ground cover year round. It naturalizes through self-seeding and by underground roots creeping horizontally and forming a large colony. We are always surprised at how quickly this plant spreads, a great choice if you have a large area you’d like to cover. We have also used this plant in small applications, in other words, you can include it in a mixed perennial bed.
As a medicinal plant, Senecio has had an important role in Native American medicine. It has been used to treat colds, hemorrhages, and as a diuretic. Senecio is a plant that has most often been used in herbal or homeopathic preparations that can help to regulate menses and to aid in any gynecological issues….it promotes menstrual flow, helps to strengthen reproductive organs, is used to treat urinary infections, acts as a natural birth control, as well as helping to relieve pain during childbirth. Though it has longed been used in the application of natural remedies, a bit of caution should be used. I myself do not tincture this plant. It is still used in professionally prepared homeopathic remedies. Like many plants, Senecio contains a naturally occurring alkaloid called Pyrrolizidine. Pyrrolizidine has been shown to produce toxicity to the liver ( hepatotoxicity), especially in grazing mammals. Because of this, most mammals or animals avoid it. This particular alkaloid in plants is used as a defense mechanism against herbivores that may feed on it. Some insects, however, are fairly resistant to its effect and actually choose plants containing these alkaloids. By chewing on leaves that contain pyrrolizidine they ingest the chemical into their own system, thus helping to ward off their own predators. Gardners should not be alarmed by the fact that Senecio contains these alkaloids, they naturally occur in the chemical composition of many plants (like comfrey and borage) and are really no threat to the home gardener. I am fascinated by the ability indigenous people had for understanding the methods used to extract these alkaloids and resins and to incorporate them into their remedies. Pretty amazing knowledge! When coming to the nursery this spring, be sure to check out Senecio aureaus, it may be just the plant you’re looking for.