A plant story waiting to be told


Single leaf of giant radweed

Single leaf of giant radweed

If you only knew how this story has been nagging me. I have been looking for the photos on and off for a few months now. Photographers, I admit that I haven’t kept up with filing photos in a file system on the computer. Cindy Dyer, Dyer Design, told me she sorts though her photos daily and deletes those she doesn’t want and files the others in folders. It was this past summer when I saw a tall plant with multiple shaped leaves growing in my garden on the back side of the house. I would look out the window and say to myself, “What is that?” Do you notice the serrated leaves? They look like tiny teeth.

On close examination it had a familiar seed head. The leaves were unique in different shapes such as a single leaf and sometimes three to five lobes. I absolutely couldn’t identify the plant using any of my extensive wildflower plant books. It isn’t often than I am stumped by a plant.

Five lobes leaf

Five lobes leaf

I emailed a knowledgeable instructor at Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwa Community College in Hayward, WI. I had studied natural resources with him.  Larry Baker has an intimate knowledge of plants and I figured if anyone knew this plant, he would.

The seed head was green. We went back and forth a few times until Larry looked up the plant key identification. I should have gone here but I didn’t. I hope he doesn’t think I am lazy. A surprise email came that asked, “Could it be Giant Ragweed?” I could have blushed because I then realized I did recognize the seed head. Yes indeed, it was this plant. The Latin name is Ambrosia trifida and the noxious weed is also known as Buffaloweed.

Great ragweed seed head. Great ragweed seed head.

How did it come to be living in my native wildflower garden? I have no idea how it got there. The plant prefers fertile moist soils. I had mulched this area with garden leaf compost a few years ago. The soil was dark and moist. Beyond the drip line of my home, all the water slopes downwards through a wood chip filter and throughout the garden bed. It must have been a male plant because the flowers were abundant in spike like clusters located on the tips of branches and stems. Female flowers are few without petals located in the axils of the upper leaves.

Leaves are opposite, large and slightly hairy, entire, or palmately cleft into 3 or occasionally 5 lobes. The lobes are ovate-lanceolate and serrated. I was able to look up the plant afterwards in a book that Ed, an elder friend, gave me a few years back. I never dreamed I would be identifying noxious weeds from this source but as you can see, I am. My books are my refuge.

Source: U.S. Department of agriculture, Selected Weeds of the United States, 1970.

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