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The Monday Garden
Goldenrod & Ragweed

Issue No. 75 - August 31, 2003
by Sue Sweeney


It must be fall because the goldenrod's blooming.  Goldenrod's a lovely fall bloomer that's gotten a totally undeserved bad rap as a major source of allergy-causing pollens.  It's not.  Goldenrod's just a nice, friendly, easy-to-get-along with native. 


It's another native plant, ragweed (Ambrosia species), which blooms at the same time that's the villain.  In the picture, taken in a local vacant lot, the goldenrod is surrounded by ragweed.

Worse yet, not only is ragweed the source of much human misery; it's horribly invasive, crowding out everything in its path.   Ragweed has lacy, pointy leaves with silvery undersides; the green flowers blend into the background.  Easy plant to overlook.  However, now that you're looking for it, you'll see ragweed everywhere -- roadsides, fence lines, railroad embankments, parking lots, gardens.  Like poison ivy (issue 74, 08/24/03), we have only ourselves to blame.   All it needs is freshly turned earth and sun; it has a deep taproot so it's doesn't care about drought.  Its seeds will wait 40 years in the soil for the right conditions to come along before germinating.

Ragweed didn't get out of hand until the European settlers along the East Coast cut down much of the forest and plowed up the land.  Indeed, I read in the New York Times recently that archeologists date the mud at the bottom of the Long Island Sound by the ragweed pollen count which rocketed upwards in the 1800's. 

Ragweed is useful to non-humans.  The oil-rich seeds are good bird food, particularly in winter.  The leaves are munched on by some insects, which in turn are hopefully munched on by birds, toads, and other insect eaters.   However, it doesn't play nicely with others and crowds out equally valuable plants like goldenrod.

Indeed, because of the large number of people who are allergic to it, I think it's un-neighborly to tolerate it on your property.  Particularly, these days when so many kids already have asthma, we need to make more effort to eradicate the noxious stuff.

Meanwhile, back to goldenrod.  It's beloved of birds, and bees, and other beneficial insects.  There are over 60 goldenrod species on the East Coast.  You find them in sunny spots along the edge of woods, fence lines, roadsides and the like.  There's even a seaside variety.  It's also a great garden plant. 

More information on ragweed: http://www.dep.state.pa.us/dep/deputate/airwaste/aq/pollen/plant.htm,
From The Monday Garden. Copyright © by Sue Sweeney. Reproduced with permission. 

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