As I walk along the edge of the woodlands in my Florida community on this autumn day, my attention is focused on two plants growing side by side. Both are in full bloom, one with golden-yellow flowers and one with plain greenish blossoms. One is responsible for causing miserable symptoms of hay fever; the other is mistakenly blamed for this pollen allergy.
Each fall millions of people with hay fever suffer with sneezing, itchy eyes, sore throats, stuffy nose and other similar symptoms. The cause is an allergy to ragweed pollen. From mid-summer until the first fall frost, each ragweed plant spews upwards of a billion pollen grains into the air. These particles are lightweight and carried for hundreds of miles by the wind. The ragweed pollen that is affecting you in the east, may have drifted from the mid-west. Ragweed is ubiquitous. It grows in parks, along the edges of roadways, in the electric right of ways, empty city lots and perhaps even in your backyard.
What does ragweed look like? Well, many think it is the golden flowering plant that so prominently blooms this time of year, but it is not. The plant with the deep yellow flowers is goldenrod. Ragweed flowers are far from showy. The blossoms are tiny pale green that dangle on long stalks so the wind can whisk the pollen off into the air to other plants for pollination to occur. Goldenrod produces pollen, but not in the great quantity that ragweed does. This is because goldenrod does not depend upon the wind to spread its pollen; its pollen is heavy and sticky. Goldenrod is reliant on butterflies and bees to carry its pollen from one plant to another. Goldenrod offers sweet nectar to insects for this service.
I look down at the beautiful goldenrod and feel bad for it because it is wrongly accused of causing hay fever. This falsehood is often perpetrated by the media. I have seen news stories on hay fever where pictures of goldenrod are shown instead of ragweed. Try googling images of ragweed and see what appears.
So if you are a hay fever sufferer, don’t blame it on the beautiful colorful fall wildflowers that adorn the fields and woodlands. Blame it on ragweed and blame it on the wind!