Guizotia abyssinica (L. fil.) Cas. in Sussex

Source: Briggs, Mary. “Guizotia abyssinica (L. fil.) Cas. in Sussex.” Sussex Botanical Recording Society Newsletter, no. 56 (May 2003).


Niger (Guizotia abyssinica)

Since 1990 Alan has received seven records of Guizotia abyssinica for our Database, all but one from the central coastal area and mostly from flower beds on Brighton seafront sent in by Tony Spiers and Paul, but one of Paul’s from a Parcel Force car park by Hove station. Those which are not coastal are from a muddy pond margin at Falmer, found by Tony, and one from Ferring as a spontaneous garden weed sent in by Martin Ford.

When this plant was first noticed in 1990 we thought of it as a new record for Sussex: there is no mention of it in Sussex Plant Atlas (1980) or the SPA Supplement (1990), nor, we thought, in earlier Floras of Sussex. However, browsing through Wolley-Dod’s Flora of Sussex (1937), I came across Guizotia abyssinica in the ‘List of casual Aliens in Sussex’ – not in the main body of the Flora, but in the Introduction. Two records for G. abyssinica are cited: ‘Brighton T.H.’ and ‘Whitehawk Valley E.E.’. T.H. is identified in the Flora in ‘Sussex Botanologia’, and also in the Introduction, as ‘T. Hilton of Brighton (circ. 1890-1909)’ with the comment ‘perhaps the collector of the greater number of Sussex plants than any other botanist, unless it was Roper’. Wolley-Dod then describes ‘three large herbaria’, adding ‘His names are very reliable, only a little excusable weakness being observable in one or two critical genera’ – (botanical comment does not change much through the years!). Britten and Boulger’s British and Irish Botanists (1931) gives Thomas Hilton’s dates as 1833-1912, that he was Hon. Curator of Brighton Museum, and that a hybrid aquatic Ranunculus was named after him as R. x hiltoni. E.E. in Wolley-Dod is Rev. E. Ellman (c. 1877-1929), described as an extensive collector in Sussex. He is said ‘not to have formed a herbarium’, but kept ‘a large note-book’, listing all the species he had seen in the county, most when visiting his father, who was rector of Berwick. His Sussex records are described as being ‘mixed-up’ with others from England, and also from France, Switzerland and Italy.

Guizotia abyssinica is a yellow-flowered composite, to 2m., but often smaller, with simple leaves and glandular above. The many flower heads are fleabane-like, but often larger. It is native to E. Africa, but cultivated especially in India for oilseed fed to cage-birds, and oil used for cooking and for paint. It is known as Niger seed or ramtil.

Further investigation may provide more detail on those records from early last century – possibly a dated herbarium specimen, or maybe we can find a reference in the large note-book? Meanwhile we may also record more plants now in this century.


Since writing the above, Dr Gerald Legg has found for us the details of the Thomas Hilton specimen in his database at the Booth Museum of Natural History at Brighton. The label on the herbarium sheet reads ‘Guizotia abyssinica. Land formerly market gardens, Hove, August 1908′.    MB