Senecio (2008)

PhotoBy Eric Driskill (April 2008)

Senecio is a genus of Asteraceae, the daisy family, which includes ragworts and groundsels. There are over 1,000 species of small shrubs and vines. These succulent species occur in Africa, Arabia, Madagascar, Mexico, the Canary Islands and the East Indies.

Senecio includes the ragworts, and many species contain toxins known to cause liver damage and hemorrhaging in livestock. However, some Senecio species are used as food plants by the larvae of some Lepidoptera. Lepidoptera, one of the most speciose orders in the class Insecta, includes the butterflies, moths and skippers.

Senecios range from vines with succulent leaves to thick-leaved shrubs with or without thickened stems or tuberous roots. There are annual, perennial and aquatic forms.

The unifying feature of the genus is the flower head. When you closely examine what appears to be one bloom, you discover a mass of tiny flowers with five petals about one-eighth-inch wide. The flowers are white, yellow, orange, pink or purple. The spent blooms form tufts of silk with seeds attached at the ends, which are borne off by the wind to germinate.

With so many species of Senecio in cultivation, you are sure to find something to complement your collection. Many people are familiar with Senecio rowleyanus, better known as String of Pearls, which most often is seen dangling under a hanging basket.

Another easily grown Senecio is S. fulgens from Natal, which can develop a rather nice tuberous root, which is sometimes raised. Many senecios are easily propagated, and S. fulgens is no exception. Rooting cuttings of S. fulgens can be accomplished by simply letting them dry and then placing them on dry to damp soil/pumice.

One of my favorite species is S. scaposus. It has short, cylindrical green leaves 2.75 to 3.15 inches long, crowded at the stem and branch apices.

There are so many senecios to choose from. You can locate species of all shapes, sizes and growth habits. Many, such as S. saginata have very attractive markings.