Friday, September 07, 2012

It's That Time Again....

What time, you ask?  Well, let me give you a couple visual cues....

What is all over this leaf surface? 

Rust?  No, but that's a good guess.  Try again.  Here's another photo of the same phenomenon, different leaf.

Some sort of tiny bug colony?  A fungus?  Yellow insect poop?  Nope.  Not even close.  Let me zoom out a bit....

Got it?  Yup.  It's ragweed time!  The goldenrod is coming into full bloom...in its usual perfect synchronization with ragweed.  All that yellow stuff?  Ragweed pollen!

Here's an even closer view....

Each of the tiny bells is a giant ragweed (Ambrosia trifida) blossom that's literally dripping pollen into the air.  Millions and billions and trillions of bits of ragweed genetics, floating around to irritate your nasal passages, if your body is so inclined.

Truthfully, I think ragweed blossoms are rather pretty, at least when examined up close.  They look a bit like miniature green foxglove spikes to me.  Here's a rather pretty giant ragweed bloom spike highlighted against the rough bark of a black willow trunk. 

I'd never really seen the family resemblance between giant ragweed and western ragweed until I looked at the bloom spikes.  Giant ragweed, getting up to 10' tall or more, with its broad, flat, widely lobed, deep green leaves.  Western ragweed (Ambrosia psilostachya), barely reaching knee height, sporting densely packed, sharply cut, grayish leaves. 

The flowers, though, tell all.  Here is a closeup of a western ragweed bloom spike....

And, then, a photo of the leaves below the bloom spike....

I have a lot of ragweed on our property, and I'm just fine with that.  In fact, this year I'm quite happy to know that it's doing well, since so many other plants are really struggling.  Why?  Because ragweed seed is one of the most nutritious seeds around, so I know I'll have at least some good, natural food available for the birds this winter.  The bluestem hasn't seeded.  The Indian grass hasn't seeded.  Heck, I haven't even seen any blue grama seed heads!  But there will be an abundant crop of ragweed seed to sustain my feathered friends through the cold months.

So, bloom on, Ambrosias!  Whatever your faults at this time of year, your winter wealth will be greatly welcome!

14 comments:

Karin / Southern Meadows said...

I am use to everyone complaining about ragweed. It gets such a bad rap and poor goldenrod gets misidentified with it all the time. I didn't know that the seeds were so nutritious for birds...at least it has something positive going for it. Great post!

Kalantikan said...

I love the way or the arrangement of photos in presenting it, a little suspense, and the photos are great. I don't know ragweed, we dont have that, but is it visited by butterflies too?

Gaia Gardener: said...

Thank you, Andrea. Ragweed is strictly wind-pollinated - hence the huge amount of tiny pollen - so no insects (including butterflies) visit the flowers. I see lots of insects on the foliage of the giant ragweed all summer long, so I presume that the leaves are edible. Two of the most common visitors are grasshoppers and wheelbugs. And, if I'm remembering properly, there is a species-specific aphid too.

Gaia Gardener: said...

Karin, I know that a lot of people suffer pretty badly from ragweed allergies (and I, too, get irritated that folks blame goldenrod, which is such a wonderful flower), but I have to feel that its benefits outweigh its negatives. If its seeds weren't needed to help maintain wildlife populations over the winter, maybe I'd feel differently....

Janet, The Queen of Seaford said...

That is a lot of pollen. I think our ragweed isn't as 'showy' as the western ragweed. I love the goldenrod and have to correct folks about the allergic reactions to it.

Gail said...

It's got me sneezing.

Jason said...

Wow, if the little bluestem hasn't seeded you really did have a bad summer.

greggo said...

Cindy, western ragweed is the bane of my wives existence. Hope to see you at the Kansas Naive Plant show in Winfield.

Gaia Gardener: said...

Gail and Greg, Ragweed allergies aren't pleasant - my sympathies to you and those you live with who suffer from them.

Janet, I've gotten quite close up in taking these photos - you'd never notice ragweed blooms unless you were both right on top of them AND looking for them. Each of the little green bells I show are about 1/8" in length and width. There's a reason goldenrod gets blamed for the allergies - nobody even SEES the ragweed blooming!

Gaia Gardener: said...

Jason, Yes, we did have a bad summer. Another bad summer, making 2 really severe summers in a row. If this keeps up, the native plant communities will be naturally changing composition from tall grass to mid grass or even short grass prairie.

Melanie said...

I have a bluestem clump from High Country Garden. .and it is just now starting to seed. .it does get extra water so that might help!!

Sunnyside Dru said...

at the rate I have been sneezing, it appears that we have a bumper crop of ragweed here on the farm this year!

Sunnyside Dru said...

ragweed in plenty of bloom here! achoo!

Gaia Gardener: said...

Melanie, I'm sure the extra water is helping. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that if we can get a soaking rain, we might still see a bit of bluestem heading out yet this year.

Dru, I'm deeply sorry for your allergies - but doesn't it feel just a tiny bit better, knowing that your suffering means a good crop of wild seed to help the birds survive the coming winter? You certainly have my sympathy about the sneezing, though!