By Suzanne Wodek
Ambrosia artemisiifolia, commonly called ragweed, is in the Aster family, which means it is related to daisies, asters, dandelions and chamomile, to name a few. Unlike its showy cousins, ragweed has a drab green flower that turns yellowish or brown as it matures and develops into a fruit. This summer annual has fern-like leaves. Its fuzzy stems are green to light pinkish red and can grow up to 3 inches tall. Ragweed prefers full sun and average to slightly dry conditions. Indifferent to soil type, it will thrive in soil containing high amounts of clay, gravel or sand, and can withstand drought.
As someone who suffers from seasonal allergies, I am not a fan of ragweed. You may be wondering why I am writing about a plant that is considered a noxious weed. In my research I found that ragweed is actually useful. The seeds are rich in oil and provide winter food for birds and small mammals. The leaves are a good source of food and cover for wildlife. Ambrosia artemisiifolia was a traditional medicinal plant for many Native American tribes, including the Cherokee. Early American physicians recognized ragweed’s medicinal uses as a topical and internal remedy. Herbalists today value ragweed root tea as a remedy for nausea, fevers and menstrual disorders.
Upcoming Events at the Botanical Gardens
Sunday, August 11, 9–11:30 a.m.
On this slow ramble through the Gardens, we will observe and discuss numerous aspects of our natural history. Botany, scientific nomenclature, reading the landscape, birds, insects, weather, plant compounds and other interesting subjects will be pondered in a fun, non-intimidating setting.
Past naturalist walks have been graced by duck-eating hawks, snakes that could not fly, a seed-marauding bear, Hummingbirds with antennas and other moments of serendipity! This is an outdoor class. Bring rain jackets and umbrellas if needed, as well as a loupe and binoculars if you have them.
Jay Kranyik is the BGA garden manager and horticulture chairman, a naturalist, and a nature photographer. He has botanized widely in the region and is coauthor of The Flora of DuPont State Forest, NC.
Participants must pre-register and pre-pay for classes by calling 828.252.5190. Cost for the workshop is $15 for BGA members and $20 for non-members.
The Botanical Gardens, located at 151 W. T. Weaver Boulevard, is a nonprofit organization housing a collection of plants native to the Southern Appalachian Mountains. Admission is free, but donations are appreciated and memberships are encouraged. Learn more at AshevilleBotanicalGardens.org.