Rainy days and Sundays always get me down when I can not garden!

Tuesday, September 26, 2017


Fall, cooler temperatures, less bugs, shorter days and "achoo"!. Often referred to as hay fever (with neither hay or fever being a factor), the proper term is allergic rhinitis.  Effecting 40-60 million Americans annually, symptoms include runny or stuffy nose, itchy eyes, scratchy throat, fatigue and of course sneezing.  Unfortunately, what is often blamed for the cause of your misery is a case of mistaken identity.

Like fraternal twins both ragweed and goldenrod are part of the Asteraceae or Compositae family.  This group also includes aster, daisy, marigold, zinnia, dandelion, sunflower and many others. However no on ever says, "geez, those sunflowers are really bothering my allergies!"  So why is there so much confusion?  They are both native, could that be the reason?  Probably not.  It's more likely because they are both blooming around the same time of year.  Beyond that there are really no similarities.  Goldenrod with its bright yellow flowers outshines ragweed's unexceptional pale, greenish flowers.

Belonging to the Genus, Ambosia ("food of the Gods"),  Ragweed is either an annual, perennial or a shrub and spreads by seeds, rhizomes or has a taproot.  It's a food source for quail and other birds and a host plant for some moths and butterfly's.  Native Americans used fibers from the stems to make thread, crushed leaves to place on insect bites, made a salve for skin sores and teas for medical uses.  Ragweed pollen is lite making it easy to move about in the wind.  It begins its assault on our sinus's  in August and continues into November, not stopping until after the first frost.   A single plant can produce about a billion grains of pollen per season, peaking around labor day.  One indicator of climate change is the increase length in the ragweed season.

Goldenrod is ranked as a top herbaceous plant by Doug Tallamy, author of "Bringing Nature Home".  Probably one of the most important late season sources for pollen and nectar Solidago, the Latin word for goldenrod means "to make whole" due to its wound healing properties. Native Americans chewed on the leaves to soothe sore throats and the roots for toothaches. In herbal medicine it is brewed into a tea and used as a  tonic for kidney and urinary track infections.  Goldenrod is heavy and sticky making it difficult to be wind pollinated.  Instead, the pollen hitches a ride on the insects that feed on it's nectar and is carried from one plant to the next.  Roughly 115 species of moths and butterflies and 11 species of native bees, as well as honeybees, solitary wasp and fire flies rely on goldenrod for food.  In the fall goldenrod is a critical food source for monarch butterflies during the "Great Monarch Migration" as they return to their overwintering sites in California and New Mexico.  Left in the garden, goldenrod offers winter interest as well as seeds for birds.


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