A long-lived perennial herb of tall-herb fens and ditches. The roadside ditch which is now its only native site is usually flooded in winter but dry in summer. Seed-set is poor there, but plants cultivated from material from this site show improved seed-set both in cultivation and at transplantation sites. Lowland.
Many sites for this species were drained in the 18th and 19th centuries. There was no substantiated record between 1857 and 1972, when it was rediscovered near Ely (Cambs.). The species has been reintroduced in or near some of its historic sites (e.g. Wicken Fen, Cambs.).
Eurosiberian Temperate element, with a continental distribution in W. Europe.
Count of 10km squares in Great Britain: 7
Count of 10km squares in Ireland: 0
Count of 10km squares in the Channel Isles: 0
RDB Species Accounts
Senecio paludosus L. (Asteraceae)
Status in Britain: CRITICALLY ENDANGERED.
Status in Europe: Not threatened.
S. paludosus is currently confined as a native species to a single roadside ditch running alongside arable land near Ely. The ditch is usually flooded in winter but dries out in summer. The associated species at this site are unremarkable, and include Arrhenatherum elatius, Calystegia sepium and Elytrigia repens.
S. paludosus is a long-lived perennial. Plants die down during the winter. In spring robust shoots grow from the rootstock and develop into tall stems with a loose panicle of large flowers. At the only native site seed-set is poor, but material from this site which has been cultivated in Cambridge and Abbots Ripton shows improved seed-set, as do plants which have been introduced to Wicken and Woodwalton Fens. This suggests that the poor reproductive performance can be attributed in part to the environmental conditions at the Ely site, where pollinating insects may be scarce and the inflorescences are regularly buffeted in the slipstream of passing traffic. Seedlings have not been seen at the Ely site.
Between 1660 and 1860 this species was recorded at scattered localities in the fens of Cambridgeshire, Lincolnshire, Norfolk and Suffolk. It appears to have been most frequent in Cambridgeshire, where Ray (1660) recorded it "in many places about the Fens, as by a great ditch side near Stretham Ferry ....".There were few recorded localities in the other counties. The species was eliminated from most of its sites by fenland drainage. C.C.Babington found a single plant at Wicken Fen in 1857 and this was the last definite record to be made in the 19th century. Bennett (1899) commented that a few plants were found after 1857, but this claim, although not improbable, has never been substantiated by precise records. For many years S. paludosus was regarded as extinct in Britain, but it was discovered in 1972 at its present site near Ely by T.W.J.D.Duprée (Walters 1974). The precise origin of the plants discovered in 1972 is uncertain: the ditch in which they occur was constructed in 1968 and it is possible that the plants grew soon afterwards from dormant seed.
The number of vegetative and flowering stems in the Ely population increased after its discovery, but has decreased in recent years. Even at its maximum extent the colony has never been extensive, and it could easily be damaged by the tipping of rubbish or other damaging events. The species was therefore adopted by English Nature's ‘recovery’ programme, and plants grown from seed of English origin have been introduced to a ditch near the existing site, and to other places including Wicken and Woodwalton Fens. Populations are thriving at both these sites, flowering well, and producing the occasional viable seed. Of the 50 originally planted, about 30% still survive at Wicken, and about 60% at Woodwalton.
S. paludosus occurs in central and eastern Europe and western Asia (Hultén & Fries 1986). It is regarded as extinct in Denmark and has decreased in frequency in north-west Germany. In the Netherlands and southern Germany, as in Britain, populations tend to be small and consist of mature plants but no seedlings; it is not known whether this is a cause for concern or whether natural regeneration has always taken place only infrequently.
C. D. Preston and T. C. E. Wells
PLANTATT - Attributes of British and Irish plants. (.zip 1455KB) This dataset was compiled and published in 2004, and last updated in November 2008. Download includes an Excel spreadsheet of the attributes, and a PDF explaining the background and nomenclature. Note that the PDF version is the booklet as published, whereas the Excel spreadsheet incorporates subsequent corrections. A hardcopy can be purchased from the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology.