November 18, 2023

What Does Ragweed Look Like?

Ragweed is a common and very allergenic plant that can cause hay fever symptoms in 10% of the people who come into contact with it. Its pollen can also irritate the skin of those who are allergic to it, and in some cases this can lead to respiratory symptoms, as well as asthma in those with allergic asthma.

Unlike most flowering plants, which have colorful berries or petals, ragweed flowers are small and nondescript. In fact, the greenish staminate (male) flowerheads grow in spikes at the top of each stem and branch and release pollen that is easily dispersed by wind. The female flowers, which enclose just one floret each, are grouped below the male heads and may be nearly hidden in the leaf axils.

Another key identifying feature of ragweed is the plant's leaves, which are 2-3 times pinnately lobed and hairless. Its leaves are usually fine and filigree-looking, with serrated edges. In comparison, the leaves of biennial wormwood, which look similar to common ragweed, have more clearly defined lobing with sharply pointed lobes.

When to harvest ragweed

In my region, the time to begin harvesting ragweed is around the second half of September for great ragweed and early October for common ragweed. The plant will be ready when the underneath side of its tiny, spiky flowers turn from yellow to tan and the topside starts to fade from green to brown. This also signals that the seeds will soon start falling off of the plant. The seeds are rich in oils and are eaten by northern bobwhite, wild turkeys, sparrows, doves, and finches. They are also a food source for mammals like ground squirrels and mice.

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