A Case of Mistaken Identity: Ragweed and Goldenrod

Sniffling, sneezing? Coughing, wheezing?

Do you have allergies? This edition of “Species of the Week” is just for you.

As we head into fall, allergy sufferers may feel the unpleasant effects of a well-known culprit: Ragweed. But how well-known is it? If you think this is ragweed, you are MISTAKEN:


NOT RAGWEED!!!   This is Goldenrod. 

This lovely yellow flower that blooms abundantly here in Southern Ontario in late August, is actually Goldenrod (Solidago canadensis.)

This, on the other hand, is Ragweed (Ambrosia artemisiifolia):


This is Ragweed (as far as I can tell)

While these two look nothing alike to me, they tend to show up in similar locations, and bloom at the same time. The bright yellow blooms of goldenrod that tower in fields and along roadsides tend to confuse people into thinking they are the source of the pollen. In fact, goldenrod pollen is heavy and transferred only by insect. The much less conspicuous ragweed releases puffs of pale pollen into the air. When we were trying to figure out what it was, we gave it a kick, and a cloud appeared. (I am fortunately not an allergy sufferer.) The pollen has been known to travel 200 km on the wind.

Goldenrod is native to Canada and can grow up to 2m high. Leaves are narrow and tapered at both ends. Bright yellow clusters of flowers usually form a pyramid at the top. Goldenrod plays an important ecological role as a native wildflower. It is a critical food source for many insects. Also, it is yet another species that is edible to humans when prepared in a variety of ways. It has been used medicinally as a diuretic and anti-inflammatory.

Common Ragweed can grow up to 150 cm high (although is much shorter in my experience) and has green, inconspicuous stalks of flowers. Leaves are highly lobed (remind me a bit of parsley). (Note: there is also a giant ragweed which can grow much taller). It has also been used medicinally in the past and plays an important ecological role, providing shelter and food to a variety of other species. It is, however, considered a noxious weed, and probably should be avoided in gardens.

So, if you happen to see a stand of tall, showy, yellow flowers in my backyard, do not panic, and please do not call the noxious weed inspector. That’s goldenrod, NOT ragweed.






Posted on August 17, 2013, in Species of the week, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. I’ve devloped a slight case of allergies this season.. I wonder if there’s a higher amount of this around this year..


  1. Pingback: Purple and Gold: A Royal Autumn Display | Unlocking the Gate

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