Cinnabar Moth caterpillars on Ragwort
These clusters of sunlight
shine with the wings of bees
but are dark honey when
hidden in sweet hay.
I’ve seen them, untouched,
seeds drifting over close-bitten grass
where horses graze. Caterpillars
of cinnabar moths
In their tiger stripes its dark
And its sunny aspect, the black
And red moths returning to lay
Eggs where no ruminant rasps them.
Ragwort is poisonous to cattle and horses who have the sense to avoid it when growing in fields where they graze, but if too much of it gets into hay it can cause problems. The Scottish poets Robert Burns and James Hogg both have poems where the stalks of Ragwort are ridden by fairies or changed into horses by witches. The specific name 'jacobaea' apparently comes from the fact that the plant is in full bloom on St James' Day (25 July).