Closing statements by the warden for the Municipality of Yarmouth, Leland Anthony, prompted the subject of this week’s column. He expressed concern about the spread of Tansy ragwort with the loss of the county weed inspector several years ago.
“It’s very dangerous to livestock, especially cattle, sheep, any animals that eat grass,” he said.
“It’s a beautiful plant. You almost want to put it in your perennial garden,” he said.
But if livestock eat it, livestock die,” he said.
The deathly affliction became known as the Pictou disease after the county and town.
Tansy ragwort is a common weed in Great Britain. It has now spread to New Zealand and Australia, as well as Canada. It was first found in Canada in the early 1900's. Other names for this weed are common ragwort, staggerwort, and stinking willie.
A natural enemy of the plant is the cinnabar moth. Sometimes roadside plants can be observed covered in feasting caterpillars.
Tansy ragwort is generally a biennial, forming a rosette its first year of growth. These can range from 5-30 centimeters in diameter. In the second year, it produces a tall flower stem up to one-meter in height. The erect stem is branched from about the middle of the stalk up to the top, which is often woolly. If damaged or suppressed by competition, this weed may remain in the rosette stage for several years, becoming a short-lived perennial.
The leaves are deeply lobed into irregular segments. The rosette and basal leaves of the plant are stalked, while the leaves, which alternate on the stem are not. It has a short taproot and slightly spreading, fibrous roots, which are whitish in colour.
The flower heads form in flat-topped clusters at the top of the stems in late July to August. Seeds form later in autumn and have long silky hairs attached to one end. Although the seeds are windborne, they often fall close to the parent plant. They can also be easily transported by wind, water and animals. One ragwort plant can produce in excess of 150,000 seeds. The seeds are viable for four to five years, or over 20 years if buried.
If you live in an area that is becoming infested with Tansy ragwort, call the provincial Department of Agriculture for safe disposal instructions. In Nova Scotia, the District Weed Inspector may be reached at 902-893-6549.