Welsh groundsel herbarium sheet

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What is it?

This is a dried Welsh groundsel plant from the botany collection. Its scientific name is Senecio cambrensis. It is a modern specimen, collected in 2008.

This is just one of over 6 million plant specimens looked after by the Museum.

Herbarium sheet features

  • The label records what the specimen is, where and when it was collected, and by whom
  • The barcode is a unique identification that enables the Museum to track each object, both within the Museum and when on loan. It also manages all the scientific information associated with it.
  • Drying and pressing helps preserve plants and carefully gluing them to paper shows off most of their identifying features. The tiniest detail on this groundsel, or its label, could lead to new understandings.

What can this specimen tell us?

Comparing this specimen with others, it shows some similar features to Oxford ragwort, Senecio squalidus, and common groundsel, Senecio vulgaris. This is one clue that Welsh groundsel arose from a hybrid, formed when the 2 other species bred together.

Most plants of hybrid origin are sterile, and die out, but Welsh ragwort is unusual – it is able to reproduce and establish itself.

Historical records of Senecio in the UK indicate that this new species evolved recently, in the 1940s.

Problems facing new species

New species, like the Welsh groundsel, can quickly become endangered because they start out as a few individuals, living in a small area. This means they are very vulnerable to change.

Welsh groundsel only grows in a small corner of north-east Wales. It grows on waste ground, roadsides and cracks in walls and pavements. It is classed as ‘near threatened’ by conservationists, because the plants grow in such a small area that the entire species could be endangered if conditions change there.

Scientists think that this may already be happening. The number of Welsh groundsel plants has fallen over the last 20 years. This may be due to development of the sites where it grows, and the use of herbicide along road edges.

Threat of extinction

We know that the Welsh groundsel is vulnerable, because the same hybrid appeared in Edinburgh in the 1970s but had been wiped out there by 1993. Scientists think that building over the sites where it was growing made it impossible for the species to survive.