Exploring The Last Green Valley – The Sneezing Season: Ragweed in Bloom
The Sneezing Season: Ragweed in Bloom
I have several things in common with both my father David Reid and my paternal grandmother Florence Lewis Reid. To look at a picture of each of us is to see resemblance in our face and stature (or should I say lack thereof). My grandmother, my father and I also are known for prolonged sneezing attacks. When I start to sneeze, my family counts to see if I will break my record of 10 consecutive sneezes. Anything less than six is met with disappointment.
Despite my tendency for several consecutive sneezes, I don’t know of anything that I am specifically allergic to. I don’t suffer from allergies to the point where I need to take medication. But I suspect that the ragweed blooming along roadsides and field edges at this time of year is the source of my late summer sneeze attacks.
So what is ragweed anyway?
Ragweed or common ragweed (Ambrosia artemisiifolia) is thought to resemble the leaves of artemesia, the true wormwood. It has several common names including American wormwood, Roman wormwood, bitterweed, blackweed, carrot weed, and hay fever weed, to name a few. Hay fever weed makes the most sense to those who suffer from chronic hay fever allergies.
Ragweed is native to North America and Canada and is also found throughout South America and some of the islands in the Caribbean. It emerges in late spring and propagates mainly by rhizomes as well as by seed.
Ragweed is an annual plant and can grow up to five feet tall. It has hairy stems and light green leaves up to four inches long. It is found in and along fields, gardens, and roadsides. Ragweed flowers are yellowish-green and small. They grow in clusters up to six inches long near the top of the plant.
Ragweed flowers produce huge amounts of pollen and bloom from July to October (which explains my late summer, early fall sneezing attacks). Pollen is transferred from one plant to another by wind and insects and is a strong allergen to people with hay fever. Once a flower is pollinated, it forms fruit. The fruits of this plant are small and top-shaped, with small spines.
Ragweed is a good source of food and cover for wildlife. Rabbits eat the plants, and insects such as grasshoppers eat the leaves. Some animals that eat ragweed seeds include: vole, dark-eyed junco, brown-headed cowbird, northern bobwhite, purple finch and gold finch, mourning dove, and red-bellied woodpecker.
We have ragweed near our property in Putnam. I see it along the roadsides and edges of corn fields and hay fields in my neighborhood. At our house it grows along the horse yard fence and the edges of our pasture. Once you start looking for ragweed you suddenly find it everywhere!
I pull it up when I find it in the vegetable garden and along the edge of our property. It is hard to keep ahead of but I try to pull it before it blooms. It is relatively easy to pull though it gets harder as the plant matures and the stem gets woodier. It is best to look for it in spring and early June and yank it as soon as you can.
We live in a region full of astounding flora and fauna. The plants and animals that call The Last Green Valley home are what make this region such a wonderful place to live. Ragweed is one of the native plants that is alive and well in our neighborhoods. It is probably one of the most reviled non-invasive native plants that we have – it certainly is to me. While I appreciate that certain animals use it for a food source, there are countless other plants that serve that purpose as well. Around my house, they’ll just have to go searching elsewhere for ragweed!
Bill Reid is the Chief Ranger of The Last Green Valley National Heritage Corridor and has lived in the region for more than 30 years. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Norwich Bulletin is granted first serial rights and associated electronic rights to publish the preceding article. The Last Green Valley, Inc. retains all other rights to the work.
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