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   The four Asteraceae pictured on this page were originally placed in the Senecio genus by Asa Gray in the mid-1800s; many modern botanical guides, including John Kartesz's Synthesis of the North American Flora (the ultimate authority for all names on this website), the Flora of North America, and Intermountain Flora, retain the Senecio classification. 

   In 1973 William Weber made the case for moving these four species to the Ligularia genus, a genus established by Cassini in 1816.

   Weber indicates that Ligularia has turbinate, nodding, succulent heads; succulent, coarsely dentate, often purplish, and clasping leaves; roots little branched and ropy; and a strong lemon scent. Senecio has none of these characteristics.

   As indicated above, other botanists disagree with Weber and retain Asa Gray's designation of Senecio. I know of no other floras that place these species in Ligularia.

   "Ligula" is Latin for "strap", referring to the long rays of some members of this genus.

   Linnaeus named the Senecio genus in 1753, and there are now over twelve hundred species world-wide making the genus about the 9th largest in the world. There are about 55 species of Senecio in the United States, with about 17 in the Four Corners region; 15 of these are shown on this website.

    "Senecio" is from the Latin, "senes", "old man", and refers to the pappus hairs, the silvery (usually) feather-like growth at the apex of the seeds in many Asteraceae.

  Senecios are called Ragworts, Groundsels, Butterweeds, Burnweeds, etc. On my website you will find them usually referred to as Ragworts with the Groundsel name usually referring to Packeras, a genus formerly part of the Senecio genus.

Click to see how Packera is distinguished from Senecio.

This is a native species.

Senecio amplectens

Senecio amplectens variety amplectens

Senecio amplectens variety amplectens

Senecio amplectens variety amplectens Synonyms: Senecio amplectens, Ligularia amplectens. (Showy Ragwort)
Asteraceae (Sunflower Family)

Subalpine, alpine. Woodlands, openings. Summer.
Above: Colorado Trail above Hillside Drive, August 7, 2015 and Eagle Peak Trail, August 20, 2014.
Left: Sharkstooth Trail, July 30, 2004.

Senecio amplectens variety amplectens is a common, very cheerful Sunflower that grows scattered or in small patches in high mountain mid-summer. It grows very straight and upright, but its flowers demurely nod. Flower rays are a bright lemon-yellow and ray tips are pointed. Some botanical keys indicate that basal leaves are withered at flowering time, but, as the photograph at left and above show, basal leaves can be present at flowering time. Lower leaves are wider, longer, and more numerous than upper leaves; all leaves may be relatively smooth-margined, but most often they have small teeth.

"Amplect" is "to embrace", referring to the way in which the base of the leaves clasps the stems, especially noticeable in the top leaf in the left photograph and in several plants in the photograph at the top of the page.

Asa Gray named this plant Senecio amplectens in 1862 from a specimen collected by Charles Parry in Colorado. 

Synthesis of the North American Flora (BONAP), Flora of Colorado, A Utah Flora, Flora Neomexicana III, and Intermountain Flora follow H. D. Harrington's 1954 reclassification in his Manual of the Plants of Colorado, and they all combine Senecio (Ligularia) amplectens with Senecio (Ligularia) holmii, shown below. The species shown at the left is called Senecio amplectens variety amplectens and the species below is called Senecio amplectens variety holmii. Harrington gives almost no information regarding his new classification, only saying the following after his description of Senecio amplectens:

"Senecio amplectens holmii (Greene) comb. nov., (var.)
S. holmii Greene---Plants less than 20 cm. tall. Perhaps only a dwarf form.--- With the species in Colorado, our records at 10,500-12,500 feet."

However, on the basis of my field observations of hundreds of specimens, I find the two taxa quite distinct in their morphology and their habitat. I believe they should still be considered distinct species, as they were originally classified by Greene in 1900 and as they are considered in Weber and Wittmann's Colorado Flora.

Senecio amplectens variety amplectens

Senecio amplectens variety amplectens

Senecio amplectens variety amplectens

Senecio amplectens variety amplectens (Showy Ragwort) Synonyms: Senecio amplectens, Ligularia amplectens. (Showy Ragwort)
Asteraceae (Sunflower Family)

The photographs at left and below show the variations in color and hairiness of the narrow phyllaries of Senecio amplectens.

                      Senecio amplectens variety amplectens

 

This is a native species.

Senecio bigelovii variety hallii

Senecio bigelovii variety hallii.  Synonym: Ligularia bigelovii. (Nodding Ragwort)
Asteraceae (Sunflower Family)

Montane, subalpine. Meadows. Summer.
Left: Navajo Lake Trail, July 31, 2015 and
El Diente Trail, July 22, 2004.

So often hikers pass by this plant seeing only the dark maroon, yellow, or green back of the nodding flower head and thinking that the flower is not yet open, or that it is in seed. But tilting up the nodding heads in mid and late summer will reveal a myriad of tightly packed yellow disk flowers. 

Senecio bigelovii variety hallii is quite common in mountain forests and meadows, often growing in large scattered clusters. It is very similar to Senecio amplectens in its growth pattern but it has no ray flowers.

Asa Gray named and described this species in 1857 from specimens collected by John Bigelow, botanist and member of several Western expeditions in the New Mexico area. Bigelow collected the first specimens of this plant in the mountains of north-central New Mexico while with the Whipple Survey in 1853-1855. Click for more biographical information about Bigelow.

                                             Senecio bigelovii

Senecio bigelovii variety hallii

Senecio bigelovii variety hallii

Senecio bigelovii variety hallii
Senecio bigelovii variety hallii.  Synonym: Ligularia bigelovii. (Nodding Ragwort)
Asteraceae (Sunflower Family)

Montane, subalpine. Meadows. Summer.
El Diente Trail, July 22, 2004.

Senecio bigelovii has tightly packed disk flowers; it has no ray flowers and the flower heads almost always nod. The upper three flower heads in the long photograph at immediate left have fully open flowers. The branching pattern with one flower head at the top is characteristic of this species. 

Senecio bigelovii phyllary color varies from green to yellow-green to yellow, purple, and red. The darker purple is most common in the Four Corners region.

Senecio bigelovii
Senecio bigelovii variety hallii.  Synonym: Ligularia bigelovii. (Nodding Ragwort)
Asteraceae (Sunflower Family)

Montane, subalpine. Meadows. Summer.
Colorado Trail near Roaring Fork Road, July 27, 2016.

Senecio bigelovii leaves vary in length from about 7-15 cm and in width from about 1-5 cm. Near the base of the plant leaves are often larger and petiolate (bottom two leaves in photograph); they are gradually reduced in size upward and they often clasp the stem (upper center and right in photograph).

Leaf margins can be entire or serrate and surfaces range from woolly to glabrous.

Combine these varying leaf characteristics with the varying height of Senecio bigelovii (from one to over three feet tall) and you have a plant that varies so much that you sometimes think you have come upon a species you never saw before. Typically, however, I find that plants over a large area tend to be very similar. But when you move, for instance, from the western San Juans of Colorado to the Abajo Mountains of Utah, you are apt to find some great contrasts in leaf size, hairiness, and height of the plant.

Senecio bigelovii

Ligularia bigelovii

Senecio bigelovii variety hallii

Senecio bigelovii variety hallii.  Synonym: Ligularia bigelovii. (Nodding Ragwort)
Asteraceae (Sunflower Family)

Montane, subalpine. Meadows. Summer.
Colorado Trail above Hillside Drive, August 7, 2015.
Lake Hope Trail, September 20, 2011.
Colorado Trail above Roaring Fork, October 16, 2015.

Flowers continue to mature into August and September. Flowers of the outer ring open first. The inner unopened flowers appear as yellow balls. The flower structure is typical of Asteraceae disk flowers: tubular with flared lobes and the sexual parts exerted.

By late September at high elevations, almost all Senecio bigelovii flowers have faded and white pappus hairs dominate.

 

This is a native species.

Senecio amplectens variety holmii

Senecio amplectens variety holmii

Senecio amplectens variety holmii
Senecio amplectens variety holmii.  Synonyms: Senecio holmii, Ligularia holmii(Holm's Ragwort)
Asteraceae (Sunflower Family)

Subalpine, alpine. Meadows, scree. Summer.
Above: Sharkstooth Trail, July 31, 2019 and Kennebec Pass, July 18, 2005,
Left: Sharkstooth Trail, July 18, 2005.

Those who never climb to alpine scree fields miss so much. But even those who do, often miss the flowers because the rocks are so pervasive and arresting. Careful observation reveals numerous species of plants tucked into lichen-covered scree and talus fields. The lichen and wind and water erosion provide the soil for these plants to thrive.  One such plant is the lovely Senecio amplectens variety holmii, at left at the 12,000 foot Sharkstooth Pass. Senecio amplectens variety holmii grows from two to twelve inches tall with a mass of vertical, reddish tinged, thick leaves and bright lemon yellow flower heads that nod or very commonly face outward, 90 degrees from the flowering stems.

The first specimen of this plant was collected for science probably in 1876 by Harry Patterson on Grays Peak, Colorado, was named Senecio holmii, and was described by Edward Greene in 1900. Herman Holm, 1854-1932, was a naturalist, explorer, and Assistant Botanist of the United States Department of Agriculture. He collected and wrote about Colorado flora. Click for more biographical information about Holm.

See the information above on Senecio amplectens var. amplectens.

Senecio amplectens variety holmii

Senecio amplectens variety holmii.  Synonyms: Senecio holmii, Ligularia holmii(Holm's Ragwort)
Asteraceae (Sunflower Family)

Subalpine, alpine. Meadows, scree. Summer.
Kennebec Pass, July 18, 2006.

Ray flower petals vary in width, length, and the amount of curl.

Senecio amplectens variety holmii

Senecio amplectens variety holmii.  Synonyms: Senecio holmii, Ligularia holmii(Holm's Ragwort).
Asteraceae (Sunflower Family)

Subalpine, alpine. Meadows, scree. Summer.
Kennebec Pass, July 18, 2006.

Phyllaries are glabrous, narrow, and fairly even in length except for the few shorter outer ones.

 

This is a native species.

Senecio soldanella
Senecio soldanella.  Synonym: Ligularia soldanella.  (Colorado Ragwort)
Asteraceae (Sunflower Family)

Alpine. Scree. Summer.
Black Bear Pass, July 20, 2008.

Senecio soldanella is a distinctive plant that is not only easy to spot because its purple is so eye-catching against the barren rocks it inhabits, but it is fairly easy to identify because nothing else looks like it.  Above the purple and fleshy leaves are bright yellow flower heads which are quite large relative to the plant size.

Senecio soldanella is found throughout the mountains of Colorado but nowhere else except for Taos County, New Mexico.

Asa Gray named this plant Senecio soldanella and William Weber renamed it Ligularia soldanella, maintaining that the plant is not a true Senecio. 

According to Calflora Names, "Soldanella" is "an Italian diminutive of "soldo", "coin," thus "a small coin," referring to the round leaves of some" plants given this name.

Senecio soldanella
Senecio soldanella.  Synonym: Ligularia soldanella. (Colorado Ragwort)
Asteraceae (Sunflower Family)

Alpine. Scree. Summer.
Black Bear Pass, July 20, 2008.

Range map © John Kartesz,
Floristic Synthesis of North America

State Color Key

Species present in state and native
Species present in state and exotic
Species not present in state

County Color Key

Species present and not rare
Species present and rare
Species extirpated (historic)
Species extinct
Species noxious
Species exotic and present
Native species, but adventive in state
Eradicated
Questionable presence

Senecio amplectens variety amplectens

Range map for Senecio amplectens variety amplectens

Senecio amplectens variety holmii

Senecio amplectens variety holmii

Senecio bigelovii variety hallii

Range map for Senecio bigelovii variety hallii

Senecio soldanella 

Range map for Senecio soldanella