Sunday, 28 April 2013

Oxford Ragwort

On a grey chilly day, punctuated by the occasional shower, I visited Banbury. As usual, more in hope than expectation, I had my camera with me...just in case.

Not surprisingly, insects were few and far between but a hoverfly, Eristalis pertinax, did pose obligingly on a leaf at the edge of the Tesco car park. This species is one of the bee-mimicking flies resembling, in this case, a honey bee. It is a common and widespread species and will often be noticed hovering, just a little above head-height, over a woodland path.

Hoverfly, Eristalis pertinax. Banbury, 27 April, 2013
I was pleased to see some plants of Oxford Ragwort, Senecio squalidus, in full flower near to the B & Q Store, providing a splash of bright colour on this chilly day. The plant has a curious history. 
Oxford Ragwort. Banbury, 27 April, 2013

The species was introduced to Oxford Botanic Gardens towards the end of the 18th century and by 1794 was reported growing on nearby walls. From there it seems to have colonised railway tracks, its fruits being carried - like its relative the Dandelion - on feathery parachutes, doubtless being swept along in the wake of passing trains. The plant grows wild on, among other places, the slopes of Mount Etna and it may have found the ash and ballast of the railway tracks not unlike the volcanic slopes of Etna. Steadily the plant spread along the rail network and by 1916 had arrived in Northamptonshire, being recorded beside the track at Kings Sutton. Spread has continued to this day although much of Scotland remains uncolonised and records are few from central Wales, but over England it is now very common. 

With at least five insect species feeding on the stems and foliage, and many insects visiting the flowers for nectar, the plant is of considerable ecological interest; I will be keeping an eye on specimens in Byfield.

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