(Ambrosia psilostachya)

What is it?

Ragweed is an erect perennial herb growing a slender, branching, straw-colored stem to a maximum height near two meters, but more often remaining under one meter tall. Leaves are up to 12 centimeters long and vary in shape from lance-shaped to nearly oval, and they are divided into many narrow, pointed lobes. The stem and leaves are hairy. The top of the stem is occupied by an inflorescence which is usually a spike.

Where does it live?

Ragweed is what sometimes is referred to as a first volunteer. It shows up in vacant lots where nothing else will grow. It thrives in adverse conditions, is aggressive, grows quickly. It is ubiquitous in New York City.

Why is it here?

Ragweed is the number one cause of Hay Fever because it releases so much pollen into the air. It is also a plant that has thrived in the age of the Anthropocene, so it is even more common than it once was. Because of this, Hay Fever is also on the rise, and Hay Fever is a trigger for asthma. Asthma is a debilitating respitory disease that adversely and unequally afflicts poor communities in the inner city, due to a history of Environmental Racism that locates toxic industries in those communities. The spike in Ragweed growth, which is in part due to climate change, is thus exacerbating an already unjust situation in the inner cities, particularly New York City in areas like the South Bronx, where Asthma rates were already sky-high.

Of Note:

This plant had a number of medicinal uses among several different Native American tribes, including the Cheyenne, Kumeyaay (Diegueno), and Kiowa people. It contains a biologically active phytochemical called Psilostachyin.