Sunday, May 6, 2012

Golden Ragwort - Packera aurea (fka Senecio aureus)

Golden ragwort (Packera aurea) is the only perennial member of this genus of wetland asters in Florida.  As such, it is also the only one to be grown commercially to any extent.  Golden ragwort is rare in Florida, found only in Liberty, Gadsden, and Leon Counties in the central Panhandle. It is much more widely spread outside our state, however, and occurs in nearly every state and province west of us to Manitoba south to Texas.
Golden ragwort is distinctive for its rounded basal leaves.  These remain evergreen through the winter months. The rich green basal leaves are, in fact, one of this plant's most attractive features.  In early spring, a flower stalk emerges from the center of the rosette and may reach 2-3 feet high. Like other members of this genus, multiple flower buds occur at the end of each stem and these open to clusters of canary yellow flowers.  In our garden here in Pinellas County, golden ragwort blooms in February to early March - making it one of our earliest wildflowers.  The flowers attract bees and butterflies. By April, the seedheads have dried and the flower stalks have withered.
Golden ragwort is a wetland plant and requires moist to wet soils to prosper. It will tolerate some drought during the cooler winter months, but do not allow it to get too dry during the heat of summer.  It also tolerates partial to mostly shady conditions, though it will bloom best if given higher levels of sunlight; just keep it wet if grown in the sun.
Though restricted naturally to a 3-county area in Florida, it can be grown well outside this in a landscape setting.  We have kept it for many years now in our wetland garden here at Hawthorn Hill and I suspect it could be grown even further south if given the conditions it prefers.  Golden ragwort is offered by a few nurseries associated with FANN - the Florida Association of Native Nurseries.  You may have to search a bit to find it, but it is worth the effort if you are looking for a wetland wildflower that is attractive for both its foliage and its flowers. 

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