Photo: Chuck Hubbuch
Common ragweed is known to botanists as Ambrosia artemisiifolia. This is an interesting choice for a scientific name. To the ancient Greeks, ambrosia was the food of the gods. It conferred immortality to those who ate it. Ambrosia has also referred to beverages and perfumes in ancient literature. The specific name, “artemisiifolia”, means that it has leaves like Artemesia, plants that are also known as sagebrush, mugwort and wormwood. To me, the smell of fresh ragweed is pungent and unpleasant – not something I would consider to be a perfume.
Common ragweed is native throughout Florida. Three additional species are found in the state, too. About fifty Ambrosia species are native to the Americas and some have become weeds in other parts of the world. Ragweed provides the usual environmental benefits of plants. Plants are common in disturbed areas where they help prevent erosion. Like most plants, they convert water and carbon dioxide into oxygen and sugar. Reportedly, deer and horses eat ragweed but this may not help in your garden.
The greatest impact of ragweed on people is not a beneficial one. Many of us are allergic to ragweed pollen and it causes the coughing, sniffling disorder commonly known as hay fever. The leaves cause skin rashes in some people. While it is generally considered to be a fall problem, ragweed flowers throughout the summer and into winter in Florida. One reference says that a single plant can spread about a billion grains of pollen in one season. Because of this, ragweed is considered to be a major contributor to hay fever in the United States. The worldwide cost of allergens, including ragweed, is estimated at billions of dollars per year. That does not include the cost of controlling these plants as weeds in our farms and home yards.
The Jacksonville area is a great place for ragweed. Clumps of twenty or more stems can grow to over six feet tall in a good location. We work to control ragweed in the garden area of the Jacksonville Arboretum and Gardens. Despite our efforts, you should be able to find plants there through the growing season.
By Chuck Hubbuch