Ambrosia artemisiifolia

common ragweed

By the open window

clogged sinuses

eyes rimmed in red

after wind pollination

the female flower develops into

a prickly ovoid burr

one arrowhead-shaped seed.

__________

In response to the very last Poetry Thursday prompt, “an open window.” Italicized lines lifted from the Wikipedia entry. Yes, “Ambrosia” really is the scientific name for ragweed.

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Dave Bonta (bio) crowd-sources his problems by following his gut, which he shares with 100 trillion of his closest microbial friends — a close-knit, symbiotic community comprising several thousand species of bacteria, fungi, and protozoa. In a similarly collaborative fashion, all of Dave’s writing is available for reuse and creative remix under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License. For attribution in printed material, his name (Dave Bonta) will suffice, but for web use, please link back to the original. Contact him for permission to waive the “share alike” provision (e.g. for use in a conventionally copyrighted work).

13 Comments


  1. Dave, do you have any theories about (or do you straight-out know) why ragweed is named “Ambrosia”? I’ve always theorized (without a damn bit of evidence) that since ragweed is so hard to kill, it’s named for the food of the immortals. It would be nice to know, though, the real reason.

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  2. Thanks for the comments. Good to hear that I’ve managed not to be too far wrong about an experience which I have not had myself (though of course the best part is all found object, so I can’t take much credit).

    Lorianne – Sounds like a question for Languagehat! But I can think of one or two books that might be able to tell us. I’ll see if I can track it down tomorrow.

    The specific name is easy – I can vouch for the fact that there is more than a passing resemblance with the leaves of wormwood and mugwort.

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  3. I’m so lucky to not suffer, but so appreciate that the name of ragweed beign Ambrosia. I love the implied irony, even if I have to make it up.

    I wonder that it is the food of the god, Artemis, from the second part of the latin name…

    Clever response to the prompt. (And I thought your essay on owning words was apt, interesting.)

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  4. Lorianne and ..deb: Apparently, the answer to the mystery is simple: Linneaus, knowing that ragweed was so bitter it could render the milk of cows who grazed it unpotable, decided to make a joke. Swedish humor, you know. (That’s on the authority of Edwin Rollin Sencer, author of the Dover reprint All About Weeds.) I don’t know if there’s any implied connection beween this supposed ambrosia and Artemis or not. (Artemis’s name became attached to the wormwood genus because she was thought to protect against disease and pestilence, and the wormwoods are very effective antiseptic agents.)

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  5. I don’t think I’ve ever seen “clogged sinuses” in a poem. Go you!

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  6. Wow, so the scientific name of ragweed is literally a joke. That’s an explanation I can certainly live with.

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  7. Thanks, Robin! I thought it was kind of cool the way “clogged” brings the reader to an almost complete stop.

    Lorianne – I don’t know enough about Linneaus to know if this was typical of him; do you? I gather he named species he didn’t like after his enemies, though, so clearly he hadn’t gotten the memo about science being dispassionate.

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  8. Here’s a quote:

    Golden rod is often mistakenly identified as the cause of the horrible hay fever many people suffer from late in the season. But the real culprit is ragweed, whose generic name is Ambrosia. Not because it is the nectar of the gods, but because it was named for the botanist John Ambrose.

    http://www.gardenweb.com/cyberplt/plants/asteraceae.html

    I’ve been trying to verify this since I read it a few weeks ago, with no luck. I happen to know the author, Barry Glick, and while he might be right, he’s not someone who cares a great deal about these sorts of details.

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  9. Well, I see he missed the detail about “goldenrod” being one word, for example. Hmm.

    Thanks, though! The mystery (or at least the confusion) deepens…

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  10. hmm… clogging…
    stillness at the instant of pollination

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