ORRIN MORRIS: Southern ragwort is also known as 'sneeze weed'

SOUTHERN RAGWORT Senecio smallii

SOUTHERN RAGWORT Senecio smallii

The text from which we get our theme, “Consider the Lilies” notes Jesus saying, “But I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory did not clothe himself like one of these” (Luke 12:27). Solomon could have said that about himself, for he was a student of wildflowers, too.

I Kings 4:33 records, “He described plant life from the cedar of Lebanon to the hyssop that grows out of walls.” Such a scientific interest in the identification and description of the natural world about us seems to me an important sign of human maturation.

As we mature, we become less focused on self and give more attention to other persons. Soon we realize that the environment in which we live is critical to the human community.

Then, aware of the environment and its impact, the next step is finding balance and harmony in our surroundings. Our environs have both negative and positive impacts upon us.

Not all wildflowers are created equal. Some are invasive weeds, but most are beautiful gifts from God. There is healing when we take time to smell the roses, even if the roses are ragworts.

Our highways and byways are especially beautiful in spring because of the early rains. Wildflower blooms that were short-lived in dry years stay longer in normal or moist years. One such species is the focus of this column.


Senecio smallii

Botanists in Europe, like Solomon, named the plants they discovered. They called their variety of senecio, ragwort.

The term “rag” was purposefully used to describe the ragged or disorganized manner the branching occurred from which the blooms appeared. There is no symmetry as is seen with Queen Anne’s lace, Yarrow, milkweed or with laurel. When the botanists came to the New World to identify and classify our wildflowers, they brought this name, too.

The flowers of the Southern ragwort are golden and shaped like 20 to 30 small daisies atop an 18-inch to 24-inch upright stem that branches within the top 4 to 6 inches.

The basal leaves are lance shaped, about 6 inches long, while the upper leaves are smaller and divided. This perennial is often found along roadsides and granite outcroppings where there is a modest source of water, specifically in the spring season.

The Southern ragwort is also called “sneeze weed” by some locals because it causes sneezing among the most sensitive persons.

Ragwort is said to have been used by American Indians to hasten childbirth and facilitate abortion. But because there were serious side effects, it is no longer used.

Orrin Morris is a retired Baptist minister, local artist and art teacher. To purchase a two-volume set of books featuring his wildflower columns, visit the Nature Seen Gallery & Frame Shop, 914 Center St. in Olde Town Conyers, or call 770-929-3697 or text 404-824-3697. Email him at odmsketchingpad@yahoo.com.