Dear Readers, Canadian Fleabane (and its close relatives Bilbao’s Fleabane and Guernsey Fleabane) are such weedy weeds that it’s easy to pass them by without so much as a second glance. Members of the Asteraceae (Daisy) family, they have tiny flowers and a whole lot of fluffy seeds and are annuals of such fecundity that once you have the plant on a patch of rough ground or, as here, along a riverside, you are probably going to have it forever. Experiments outlined in my book ‘Alien Plants’ by Clive Stace and Michael J. Crawley suggest that grazing with rabbits seems to be a way to keep the Fleabane (Conyza) genus in check, but there’s a grave lack of small furry grazing animals in Woolwich, clearly.
Fleabanes tend to grow alongside buddleia, as I noticed from the Woolwich walk.
The name given to the community of plants established by buddleia and fleabane is the Buddleia-Conyza scrub community, and you can see it popping up in many urban sunny sites, frequently on builder’s rubble or tarmac – we have a great example of this just up the road from here in East Finchley on the site of an old petrol station which has been landbanked by developers for years, but you can also find great examples on railway embankments. Fleabanes tend to be the first colonisers, along with mugwort, American willowherb, bristly oxtongue and evening primrose, but soon the buddleia and the sycamore start to take over, with the fleabane tending to die out where it’s overshadowed by the buddleia. This feels like such a very urban habitat that I’m glad that it has its own name and now has people studying it. Colonisation can start within a year of a site being left derelict, and the habitat can persist for up to twenty years. It will be interesting to see how long the example of the Buddleia-Conyza complex in East Finchley lasts before someone decides to actually build there.
And when I looked back at the last time that I wrote about Canadian Fleabane, I mentioned that there was a patch at the side of my house. When I looked early this week, there was still some there, probably descended from the seeds that were dropped by the parent plant back in 2014. You have to admire the plant’s sheer persistence.
So, this is from my original post back in 2014.
A thicket of Canadian Fleabane has erupted in the alley at the side of our house, and I am delighted. I know this is not the reaction that most people would have, but then, this week is the thirteenth anniversary of my marriage to my Torontonian husband, so a little reminder of the country that he came from is very welcome. Plus, although this plant comes from so far away, it has put down firm roots in London, and is more commonly seen in the Capital than in any other city, so in that respect it is a little like me.
There are lots of plants that resemble Canadian Fleabane, but none have such a mass of tiny flowers, which at this time of year are rapidly turning into fluffy seeds. The plant was apparently brought to the UK as seeds in the innards of a stuffed bird, back in the sixteenth century (unlike my husband who arrived into Heathrow in a big metal bird twenty-odd years ago).
In many ways, Canadian Fleabane is a ‘proper’ weed – it’s an annual which produces thousands of seeds, and which can grow in the most unpromising of spots, as its appearance in my dark, soil-less side alley proves. But, as with so many plants, it has a myriad of helpful uses. A tea made from the plant is said to be helpful for arthritis and for diarrhoea, and it has also been used to combat hay-fever. Like so many fleabanes, it is also said to be good for deterring insect parasites.
I can’t help but admire a plant that can erupt from a crack a hairs-width wide and grow to four feet high in a single season. This afternoon, the little seeds were flying away in the breezy weather, taking their chances on a new land far from where they started. And, thinking of my soulmate who flourished so far from his native soil, I find myself wishing them luck.