Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center
Well distributed across all but extreme southeastern North Dakota, gray ragwort is chiefly a west-central plains plant, being found from Manitoba and British Columbia south to Colorado and western Kansas, at elevations up to 7,500 ft.
Gray ragwort is perennial from heavy fibrous roots. Plants may be up to 16 inches tall, but the average is about one foot. Five to 15 yellow flower heads, each up to an inch wide, grow in branched clusters at the top of the stem. Leaves and stems are covered with loose patches of gray wooly hairs. Leaves are mostly basal and spoon-shaped, but a few on the upper stem are narrow and toothed. Fruits are hairless, ribbed achenes.
Gray ragwort seems to like dry sites in heavy clay soils. Cattle seem to avoid the plant, probably because of its bitter, aromatic taste.
Gray ragwort is a member of the sunflower family (Asteraceae) in which many flowers are grouped into heads. The sunflower family is the largest in nearly every country in the North Temperate Zone. Senecio is an immense, worldwide genus of well over 1,000 species, some of which are trees. The name stems from the Latin senex, "an old man," and canus, "gray," concerning the hoary appearance of many of the herbaceous species. Gray ragwort was first described for science by the eminent British botanist William Hooker in his Flora Boreali-Americana of 1834.