Yarb Tales - Ragweed
August 15, 2016

The Heritage Herb Garden at the Ozark Folk Center graces the park with visual colors and textures, sweet and pungent aromas and helps us to interpret the history of the human use of plants.

We have three species of ragweed in Arkansas. All three are annuals. Common ragweed, Ambrosia artemisiifolia, has leaves that are deeply lobed and the lobes are lobed again! Giant ragweed, A. trifida, is from off and grows 6-to 8-feet tall. The leaves have three to five lobes. Lanceleaf ragweed, A. bidentata is one I am just learning to identify. The plants grow to 2-feet tall, have many branches and the entire plant is hairy. The leaves are rough to the touch and are spear-shaped with two lobes at the base of each leaf. Check out the University of Arkansas' new online publication, Weeds of Arkansas for excellent images and descriptions.

The genus name, Ambrosia is from the Greek and means “immortal” and in mythology, was the “food of the gods”.  I smelled and tasted the plant and do not get the culinary connection. The genus is immortal on planet Earth. Even though it is an annual and should be easy enough to determinedly hoe out of existence, we humans just can't seem to keep up. There are just not enough of us willing to take up the cause.

Even though plenty of people suffer from hay fever every fall. This particular allergy season starts when the ragweed pollen begins to blow. The plants bear both female and male flowers. Wildflower lovers never wonder at their beauty because the flowers are so tiny. The flowers are born on terminal spikes or racemes; the female flowers are at the base of the spikes. The male flowers of one plant produces about a billion grains of pollen. The pollen is lightweight and is carried by wind for days over hundreds of miles. The pollen contains many allergens that cause not only runny noses but also skin rashes and mouth reactions.

I have been cutting down stands of the giant ragweed with loppers and mulching the areas with piles of the large plants. Fighting ragweed in the garden is among the activities that produces a sense of satisfaction, if not worldwide success. If I don't see you in the future—I'll see you in the pasture.