Common Fleabane

From August to September, the golden flowers of Common Fleabane brighten up damp meadows and stream edges on the Lizard.
Photo: Steve Townsend

Scientific name: Pulicaria dysenterica

Conservation status: No designations

What to look for:

  • Family: Daisy family (Asteraceae)
  • Leaves: Wrinkly-edged, downy leaves, alternate, smelling of carbolic soap
  • Height: 20 to 60 cm
  • Where: Ditches and other damp habitats
  • When: August to September
  • Habit: Upright, upper stems are branched

Common Fleabane, a rhizomatous member of the Daisy family (Asteraceae), is a native of Europe and western Asia. Here it is found across most of Great Britain and Ireland, though in Scotland it is much less frequent and only found in the south. Flowering from August to September, it is a plant of damp habitats, including the banks and edges of rivers and streams as well as marshy ground and wet fields.

A perennial, Common Fleabane can reach up to 60 cm in height and is quite bushy in appearance. Its alternate oblong, wavy-edged leaves are downy and clasp the stem, and the bright golden-yellow flowerheads can be up to 3 cm in diameter.

Did you know…?

…It was once believed that the soapy carbolic smell of Common Fleabane was repellent to fleas (hence the plant’s common name), and bunches of it were hung in houses, or it was dried and burnt to fumigate infested homes.

…The plant has also been used to treat dysentery (hence its scientific species name of dysenterica). The genus name, Pulicaria, derives from the Latin word for flea: ‘pulex’.

More information and references:

Mabey, R., 1997. Flora Britannica. Chatto & Windus, London.

Rose, F. and O’Reilly, C., 2006. The Wild Flower Key, 2nd edition. Frederick Warne, London.

Stace, C., 2010. New Flora of the British Isles, 3rd edition. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Published: September 2013 (updated August 2018)
Author: Amanda Scott
Photos: Steve Townsend