Shawnee News-Star Gardening Article September 6th 2017 Becky Emerson Carlberg Yellow yellow everywhere, but not all are sunflowers. The goldenrods are blooming. Unfortunately, goldenrods have a rotten reputation simply because they picked the same time to bloom as ragweed. Goldenrod flowers are quite apparent, but ragweed flowers are barely noticeable. When a sneeze comes on, the [...]
Shawnee News-Star Gardening Article September 6th 2017
Becky Emerson Carlberg
Yellow yellow everywhere, but not all are sunflowers. The goldenrods are blooming. Unfortunately, goldenrods have a rotten reputation simply because they picked the same time to bloom as ragweed. Goldenrod flowers are quite apparent, but ragweed flowers are barely noticeable. When a sneeze comes on, the goldenrod gets the blame.
This bodes to be an interesting year concerning the ragweed, powerful plants that can bring grown men down to their knees. All ragweeds share the genus name of Ambrosia, which means 'nectar of the gods'! Giant ragweed is Ambrosia trifida because its leaves are often divided into 3 lobes. In moist conditions, these mammoths can form towers 12 to 18 feet high and live in densely populated communities. On the plus side, giant ragweed can provide cover for birds and animals. Quail, mourning doves, ducks, turkeys and raccoons eat the seeds. The Checkerspot butterfly caterpillars eat the leaves, and no doubt other butterflies come to the non-descript flowers.
Around my house grows the smaller, one to two foot tall Western Ragweed (Ambrosia psilostachya ) Giant ragweed is an annual, but the western species is a shorter perennial that loves prairies and heavily grazed areas. Ragweed is a classic indicator of land use. The greater the population of ragweed, the higher the probability the soil has been disturbed. The multitude of plants around my house is easily explained. The land was depleted through excessive cotton production decades ago and what topsoil remained was removed during construction of the house. Not to fear, the songbirds feast on the seeds and help make more ragweed colonies. More pollen
Ragweed pollen is an extremely irritating allergen to humans, causing sneezing, runny or stuffy noses and itchy throats. The pollen is small, light and carries far in streams of moving air. A single plant can produce a billion pollen grains along the floral spikes. Ready to grab the Benadryl? People allergic to ragweed may well react to celery, peaches, melons, tomatoes and oranges. Ambrosia pollen is yellow, somewhat spherical in shape and decorated with tiny spikes. Ragweed pollen is very high right now as fall approaches. Have a box of tissues close by?
Do not blame the goldenrod (Solidago canadensis L.) Whereas ragweed flowers are almost invisible, the goldenrods are proud to show their brilliant yellow beauty. Their yellow pollen is more oblong in shape and too heavy and sticky to go far from the plant. Insects are their pollinators, not the Oklahoma wind. You will not, in all likelihood, inhale goldenrod pollen. Deer, turkeys and rabbits graze on the leaves and American goldfinches particularly like the seeds. The flowers attract Hairstreak, Sulphur and other butterflies. The native goldenrods have been given a bad rap.
The Aug-Sept issue of National Wildlife has a cool article about goldenrods. In 'Worth Their Weight in Gold' Doug Tallemy, Professor of entomology and wildlife ecology at the University of Delaware at Newark, says his studies indicate that goldenrods provide food and shelter for 115 butterfly and moth species just in the Mid-Atlantic region. He has found over 11 native bees species zero in on goldenrods and the monarch butterflies depend on the nectar for energy needed as they migrate south. In winter the songbirds dig into the seed heads.
Somehow, tall goldenrods can sense certain insect scents. Early spring the gall flies search for goldenrods and other similar plants where they can lay their eggs. The interaction between the developing egg and goldenrod causes a gall to form. Apparently the goldenrod is not keen to become a nursery for an insect. This redirects the plant's energy away from making flowers and seeds. The goldenrod mysteriously begins to duck, nod and sway to discourage the female fly. The insect moves to another plant. Since 2010, Michael Wise and colleagues have collected 'ducking' data. They report the candy cane approach is a very effective response. Goldenrods that stood straight were much more vulnerable. Who knew? Plants may have a secret side.
Don't forget, this afternoon you can enter your lovelies in the Pottawatomie County Free Fair. Give your plants, veggies and fruits a thrilling holiday. They will talk about it amongst themselves for weeks! If only you could understand what they say.