I like to see a street plant that’s new to me and this one has been springing up all over the pavements in Cardiff this summer. I think I know what it is but do you want to have a go at naming it before I tell you?
When I first saw the plant, I thought it was a willowherb (Epilobium), as it has long, narrow leaves. But when it started to come into bud in August I realised that apart from the leaves it was a bit like groundsel (Senecio vulgaris) and therefore a member of the Asteraceae family.
I think I have identified it with the help of my old copy of W Keble Martin’s The Concise British Flora in Colour. It seems to be Conyza canadensis, also called Erigeron canadensis. The book says it flowers in August and September and at the time the flora was written it was an alien plant of cultivated and waste ground in the South and East of Britain. It seems to have spread further west since then.
I had hoped to see the flowers open into pretty little daisies, but they never did. I wanted to be sure, so I waited until I found another, superb example of the plant that was already going to seed. I think it’s pretty clear that the flowers never DO open in that way…
Wikipedia tells me it is commonly called Canadian fleabane and is a native of North and Central America. Other common names are horseweed, Canadian horseweed, coltstail, marestail and butterweed. It has spread as an alien plant in temperate parts of Europe, Asia and Australia.
In its native land, this fleabane was used by the Zuni people to relieve a stuffy or runny nose. The crushed flowers were inserted into the nostrils to cause sneezing. Apparently it also helps clotting of the blood and has been used to treat rheumatic complaints and gout, a tincture being made from the dried flowering tops of the plants.
There is a 20-minute video on YouTube showing how a stout stalk of horseweed (Canadian fleabane) can be picked, dried and used for the hand drill friction method of making fire. It’s by David West and you can see it here. At the beginning it shows the plant growing in its native land. Interesting, I thought…
Thanks also for the comment from Bug Woman, pointing me to her post a year ago about Canadian fleabane in London. Read it here.