Grounsel (also known as ‘old man in the spring’) is the type of wildflower that can be seen growing in the gaps in pavements, waste ground and disturbed ground all over the UK, Europe and parts of North Africa. It is frost resistant and can grow in a wide variety of soil conditions.
Branched stems lead to open clusters of yellow flowers that can be seen most of the year. The flowers appear to come from green tubes. The flowers start yellow then turn to white, fluffy seed heads.
The plant provides food for a variety of birds and insects all through the year. Although the plant is loved by birds it is highly toxic to livestock at all growth stages because it contains pyrrolizidine alkaloids which can cause chronic and irreversible liver disease in animals. Luckily the plant is not palatable to animals so they will only eat it if nothing else available.
The seeds are fantastic green food for birds such as canaries and finches and are available all year round..
The seeds are initially spread by wind on their downy parachutes. When wet the parachute become sticky which helps to spread the seeds by sticking to animals. This may explain why the plants are so widely spread.
The seeds are very reliable in terms of germination with 100% germination immediately and 87% after 3 years.
Groundsel is poisonous to humans in large quantities. It has been used in herbal medicine for worms and colic although it isn’t recommended.